Leonard (Frank Raharinosy) could be one of the worst chefs in New York City. His boss (Max Casella) tells him his lemon chicken “tastes like prostate cancer.”
His navigation of life and his personal relationships is no better, as Leonard has lost his girlfriend Marie (Nora Arnezeder) within the first few minutes of the film, as he became too judgmental regarding her close bond with her father and cheated on her with a one-night stand.
As the film begins with his comment about her father (the spark that leads to the demise of the relationship) writer/director Onur Tukel shoots this opening moment (and flashbacks to previous times with his girlfriend) in color, while immediately going to Black & White post credits. This is the look that will bring home the film’s aura of dread, confusion, and thoughts on life and death.
“That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes” is a strange film that wears a sense of unease that is as strong as its characterizations.
Leonard’s girlfriend goes to Berlin, leaving him in the apartment, but with the caveat that he must be gone upon her return. She promises to burn anything he leaves behind. Her father Dennis (Alan Ceppos, giving the performance of the film) abruptly moves in. He is a self-involved brute who could care less about Leonard’s plight. He makes him stay on the couch. He continuously clogs up the toilet and refuses to unclog it. Add to this his insults about Leonard’s cooking and his not-so-secret penchant to fill the apartment with strange naked men. Dennis is a photographer trying to sell his work to the unforgiving NYC art world and cares for nothing else but his work.
As Leonard deals with his lack of cooking skills and girlfriend, the film becomes something of a hallucinatory mystery. Leonard begins to see strange visions. A female clown who seems to mock his manhood is quite eerie and ends up having a personal connection. He sees people with dead eyes who mock his own zombie-like manner.
Tukel gets a lot of ambient mileage out of the of film’s first hour. Through character exploration and cinematographer Eric LaPlante’s sharp camera, an interesting mood is created that draws the audience in. Is Leonard going mad or are the citizens of New York City out to destroy his well-being? The dreamy vibe of the film and its subject matter carry the mystery of it very well–for a time.
As the film moves into its final half hour, the narrative goals of the screenplay become much too distorted. Tukel strives for the abstract greatness of a filmmaker such as David Lynch but cannot seem to close the deal by film’s end. The mystery regarding Leonard’s mind is interesting and the director keeps us enthralled but he loses grip on his finale. We do not need all questions to be answered and abstractness and ambiguity can be rewarding, but here it feels like a screenplay where the ideas overcame the execution. But again, only in the last thirty minutes. What comes before is gripping and unique.
Leonard seems to represent our ability to endure as we exist in a country that doesn’t care for our plights. At times, this is a film about purpose and one’s place in the world and about perception of ourselves and how we are seen by others. The focus on these themes is where the film works best.
While Tukel’s final act betrays his aspirations, “That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes” is an artful film and the work of a filmmaker with a unique vision, evidently.