Yes, It's ‘Déjà Vu‘ All Over Again

Here's a romantic reincarnation thriller whose plot twists and chronology perch it between The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and Dead Again.

Déjà Vu

Director: Anthony Richmond
Cast: Jaclyn Smith, Nigel Terry
Distributor: Olive Films
Year: 1985
US Release date: 2017-06-27

It's possible that you've seen a film called Déjà Vu before. Tony Scott directed an excellent thriller by that title starring Denzel Washington in 2006, and Henry Jaglom made a good romance of that name in 1997. The movie under discussion today, however, is a 1985 Cannon Production shot in London and Paris, and it's a romantic reincarnation thriller whose plot twists and chronology perch it between J. Lee Thompson's The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975) and Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again (1991).

Fourth-billed Nigel Terry plays the central character, a writer named Gregory living happily with actress Maggie (Jaclyn Smith). She drags him to a classic black and white ballet film from the '30s (because there are so many!) starring one Brooke Ashley, and he becomes fascinated by Maggie's uncanny resemblance to Brooke, although Maggie doesn't seem to notice it. Maybe it's because they both have such different hair.

Gregory begins writing a screenplay in which he imagines himself as a choreographer named Michael Richardson who falls in love with Brooke Ashley, only to discover that a real choreographer by that name existed (who didn't resemble him, although he'll continue to picture himself in the role), and that he died in a mysterious fire along with Brooke and her mother (Claire Bloom).

In his research, Gregory instantly connects with a medium, Olga Nabakova (Shelley Winters), who supposedly knew the victims "intimately" 50 years ago, not that her character ever appears in the flashbacks. She uses hypnosis to regress Greg into memories of that other life while odd and sinister things happen in the present. Madame Olga is given the heavy lifting of shifting the plot around with her explanations and insights, and the cards of credibility are stacked against her; no wonder it doesn't matter when Greg knocks over her tarot table.

The 1930s flashbacks are, of course, the meat of the story, since finding out what happened back then becomes the whole McGuffin. One major problem with the screenplay's structure is getting to those parts. In between, the narrative waffles and wobbles with either too much exposition or not enough, interrupting the proceedings unconvincingly. One especially peculiar scene, after much setting up, cuts away after a freeze frame and skips over what must have come after.

The wrap-up includes one surprising revelation that viewers might predict, not as radical as that in Dead Again but whose motivation must finally be left up to the ubiquitous explanation of madness. The multiple names connected with the screenplay, based on a novel by Trevor Meldal-Johnsen, signal a vexed writing process.

This is the only film directed by Anthony Richmond, who was married to Smith at the time and for whom it must seemed a strong vehicle. Too bad the story's whole point of view belongs to Nigel Terry's role. Primarily a cinematographer, Richmond won a BAFTA early in his career for shooting Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973), a "psychic thriller" you should watch.

Pino Donaggio scored both films, by the way, and his lushness on this one has correspondingly less energy. We should also mention production designer Tony Woollard, whose long career includes work for John Boorman and who had recently done Jerzy Skolimowski's brilliant Moonlighting (1982). His wife Joanne Woollard decorated this film's sets, and the movie always looks handsome.

The credited photographer is David Holmes, who worked on the final season of The Avengers, and this final bit of output occurs a full 13 years after his previous work, leading me to speculate on the degree to which Richmond might have shot the film himself. Like many a photographer, Richmond's directorial debut looks better than it plays, and it looks no better than a mid-level '80s production that would fit comfortably on a cable channel like Lifetime, despite Terry's brief nude scene.






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.