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DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé
FEATURING: Béatrice Dalle, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Abbey Lee
PLOT: An art-house movie shoot is falling to pieces, with the director losing her cool, the lead receiving dreadful news from home, and the director of photography angling to take over the production.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Noé continues his exploration of artistic collapse with a deep dive into the traumatic possibilities found within filmmaking. Iconoclastic quotations, chaotic social disintegration, and dizzying technicolor strobe effects do a quick hit-and-run on the viewer, leaving the brain addled and the eyeballs reeling from the flicker.
COMMENTS: “Fuck entertainment movies” is either a defiant stance against mass media or a pretentious defense of fringe cinema. Either way, it is a very Frenchy disposition—or at least a very Frenchy cinematic disposition. Just off dooming a dance troupe in the psychedelic horror experience, Climax, Gaspar Noé continues to follow his chaotic muse. In LUX ÆTERNA he takes on his own field, filmmaking, and drags his cast and the viewers along with him on a quick trip into nightmare in his pursuit of art.
Events begin calmly enough. After a brief Häxan-influenced opener, we find Charlotte, an actress, and Béatrice, the director, calmly chatting about witches. Sometimes in one shot, sometimes in two photograph-slide frames side-by-side. This camera trick continues regularly throughout, capturing the behind the scenes chaos of the production of God’s Craft. The camera slides fluidly to, from, around, and between various concurrent scenes of imminent collapse: the producer cannot believe this erstwhile actress is such a horrible director; the various leads wonder just what is going on after a five-hour wait; the director of photography (who, as he reminds us, has done camera work for Godard) is on the cusp of quitting, lingering only in the hope that he might replace the current director.
LUX ÆTERNA is one of those very “meta” meta-movies. It’s a movie about a making a movie, certainly—and that’s been done. But it is informed and influenced exclusively by films pertaining to cinematigraphicality (to coin a phrase). Yellow Veil felt it advisable to include four iconic short films on the Blu-ray release: Kenneth Anger‘s “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome,” which clearly inspired Noe’s stylistic chaos; Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s “La Ricotta,” a religious-comedic-(existentialist) romp about a meaningless death on the set of a Crucifixion film shoot; and “Ray Gun Virus” and “The Flicker”—two items that both explore, at length, strobing effects both aural and visual. This in mind, you should only approach LUX ÆTERNA if you’re willing to do some homework.
That line above probably sounded like a closer, but it’s not. Gaspar Noé’s purpose here is that, as an artist, and by extension an appreciator of art, one cannot stop. Climax covered much of the narrative and stylistic ground retread here, but it is through an artist’s pursuit of complete expression, of expression as close to one’s vision as possible, that all art continues, no matter humanity’s circumstances. As LUX ÆTERNA reaches its climax, a stroboscopic nightmare blinds the cast, crew, and hangers-on. The director melts into self pity; the lead actress reaches peaks of psychological ill-ease; but the cameraman, an old fellow with experience, is clued in to what it is that is happening. Freak misfortune has given this ill-fated a movie a chance to achieve greatness despite itself, to bottle that lightning that has eluded all the planning and practice. He keeps rolling as Charlotte writhes—at first in pain, then in ecstasy—and the strobing lights blast the crowd. Films, per Noé, are not about entertainment. They’re about snatching that divine spark and showing it off to the world.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…like all of Noé’s films [it] is as much overwhelming hallucinatory experience as straightforward narrative… this “dream-like movie”, shot metacinematically behind the scenes, exposes the ugliness of a set, and of society, while also finding room in its ultimate, flickering apocalypse for a peak moment of multi-hued rapture.”–Anton Bitel, Little White Lies (Blu-ray)