I’ll be reviewing Gaspar Noé’s Vortex very soon, and I wanted to use the filmmaker’s latest short Lux Æterna as a gateway to his latest feature. I’m a fan of Noé’s polarizing work from what I’ve seen (Irreversible, Enter The Void), but his latest projects utilize a split-screen technique I haven’t seen him play around with before. As a provocateur, the writer/director has been know to explore and experiment with “gratuitous filmmaking”. It’s overkill for some, fascinating for others – I usually fall somewhere in between. For Lux Æterna, I swing towards the former group of opinions.
Actors Béatrice Dalle (À I’intérieur aka. Inside) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist, Nymphomaniac: Volume I and II) play heightened versions of themselves as they mull through a messy shoot on a medieval movie. Gainsbourg plays a witch burning at the stake along with two other women (Climax’s Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull and The Neon Demon’s Abbey Lee, also playing “themselves”), while Dalle directs. The production risks being railroaded by other creatives behind-the-scenes, but also by Dalle’s hysterical confrontations; all egos contributing towards the on-set tension.
Lux Æterna starts off with Dalle and Gainsbourg exchanging stories about working on previous movies, which includes unusual and awkward behaviour from filmmakers and co-stars that has become second nature for these actors. This repetitive dynamic goes on for a while, but sets the stage fairly well when establishing the thick skin of our leads; complimenting their strength when the shooting goes sideways on their new witchy movie.
The chaos soon escalates and people begin talking over each other in order to get their point across, while other disagreements are breaking out elsewhere on the set. Meanwhile, an outsider videographer captures everything, presumably for press use or for the eventual DVD special features. This is when Noé truly indulges in the split-screen technique and, technically, it’s rehearsed and executed well. However, a little of this can go a long way, and Lux Æterna isn’t measured well enough to know when it’s overstaying its welcome, allowing Noé’s short to fly off the rails towards the final stretch. The film becomes more unhinged when there’s a lighting malfunction and the production can’t turn off a strobe effect which ends up torturing the talent (and the viewers of Lux Æterna). Noé has always had a fascination with strobe effects, but this interest has always been his least appealing trait as a visionary.
The bar’s been set surprisingly low with Lux Æterna. Here’s hoping there’s nowhere to go but up with Noé’s Vortex.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie