Like A Dirty French Novel

Written by Mike Cuenca, Ashlee Elfman, and Dan Rojay

Directed by Mike Cuenca

Like A Dirty French Novel” begins in the realm of both the absurdist and the surreal.

A woman with glowing yellow eyes stands in the dark desert speaking to three men. The moon looms large as the unnamed woman tells a story of impending doom as three men traverse through the darkness, moving closer to their fates as a small group of masked people keep a cult-like watch.

The opening narration informs the audience that a pandemic has spread across the globe. However, the stories contained in the film are not about the pandemic proper but are “a result of its social disruption.”

Shot in less than a week during the Fall of 2020 (smack dab in the throes of the pandemic), filmmaker Mike Cuenca has crafted a strange little piece that defies its extremely low budget and exists as a sometimes successful (but always unique!) antidote to the cookie cutter films of today

Written by Cuenca, Ashlee Elfman, and Dan Rojay, this is a pastiche of stylistic choices that might put off the unadventurous viewer, but for those who dare enter this strange world, there are rewards to be found. 

After the creative opening credits that play in the style of the Italian Giallo films of the early-to-mid-1970s, we find a couple who have broken up but still share an apartment and too many secrets. Their union is the very definition of beyond repair. 

Then we meet a man whose estranged twin brother reappears and causes chaos for him that arrives in the form of two gun-wielding kidnappers who are after his bro. 

Segment three finds a lonely woman who meets a man in the park one day. Is he the man of her dreams? Does he even exist?

The connecting thread to these stories is the mysterious woman caller who seems to know a certain character’s deepest sexual pasts and the connections don’t end there. These people do get dirty and they could all very much exist in a dime store French novel.

And what if the strange beginning? Does it all connect? Of course. All will be revealed, but nothing is completely as it seems. With every moment, do not take anything on a surface level. 

Described as “five noir-tinged chapters” this is more in the Grindhouse arena than full blown Film Noir. As the dots begin to connect, the strange morphs into the bizarre.

The energy level in front of and behind the camera is high. Cuenca, his fellow screenwriters, and his cast are dedicated and completely down for the wildness of it all.

Jessica Gallant’s camerawork is filled with inventive lighting decisions (which is where one could truly throw in the Noir comparison) and gritty color schemes that give the film a balanced look, putting it in comparison to the early films from Abel Ferrara. 

The cast of unknowns and first timers is fine for this project. A couple of the performances hit while others needed some fine tuning, but for a film shot in only six days and filled with so many newcomers, the acting is what it is. For the cast entire, this is one hell of an interesting start.

There are mysteries to be solved as lives and souls converge, but the result (and the roads that lead to it) are more Lynch than Spillane.

While it does not always work (there are one or two moments that are head-scratching regarding their existence), Cuenca’s film has an untamed energy in every segment that renders “Like a Dirty French Novel” indisputably watchable. 

Take the ride. 

NR, 78 minutes, Blvd. Du Cinema Productions