Just because the concept is as old as cinema itself doesn't mean it's no longer worth exploring, so long as the perspective shifts in new and interesting ways.

Think Christopher Nolan's "Inception." Then think about checking out two current imports from IFC Films — one French, one British. I'm not suggesting they're even in the same class, because they're not; however, they exist further away from the mainstream.

In France's "Black Heaven," young Gaspard (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, bearing more than a faint resemblance to Chris Evans) saves a beautiful blonde named Audrey (the ravishing Louise Bourgoin, in full-on femme-fatale mode) from a suicide attempt, then becomes obsessed with her. He pursues her both in real life and online, masquerading his identity in a twisted, Second Life-esque game called "Black Hole," using his avatar to manipulate her offline actions.

Masks also figure in as well to Philip Ridley's "Heartless," whose heart resides in the deeply moving performance of Jim Sturgess ("21"). He plays the sad, lonely Jamie, ostracized — even by his own family, to a degree — because of a large, unsightly birthmark on the left side of his face, in the crude shape of a heart. His already bleak world is rocked when his mother is murdered by a gang of monster-masked hooligans. Or are those masks at all?

A deal with the devil gets him the flesh free of purplish pigmentation that he's always wanted, not to mention an honest-to-goodness girlfriend (Clémence Poésy) who otherwise would be out of his league. All's well until Jamie is asked to do the devil's killing.

“Heartless” grows intense, and becomes one of those films where, once the end credits roll, you’re left to wonder how much of what you just saw was all in the protagonist’s mind. By contrast, there’s never any doubt with “Black Heaven,” as it aims to make a statement about our online identities vs. our true ones. That may be the more ambitious goal, but “Heartless” is the better film. Whereas “Black Heaven” leaves viewers with a slight, bitter aftertaste, “Heartless” is quite emotional; the damn thing almost left me in tears.

It also leaves you asking, “Who’s the vocalist selling the hell out of the theme song?” That’s Sturgess, too — quite the talent, that one. —Rod Lott


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