At just 50 minutes of duration, Gaspar Noe’s latest movie constantly challenges its audience. The director uses his trademark colourful flashing lights in abundance, combined with a screechy cacophony of music and sounds. You are guaranteed to leave the cinema with a throbbing headache. Which is exactly what the 55-year-old Argentinean-born French filmmaker wants.
The film starts out nicely. A very relaxed Charlotte Gainsbourg talks to Beatrice Dalle (both French actresses play themselves) about the joys of filmmaking, and share some very spicy secrets about their career. Gainsbourg reveals that once a handsome young actor ejaculated on her leg. It reminded me a lot of “the most erotic scene in the history of cinema”, in Bergman’s Persona (1966). Except that the screen is split in two, with one actress on each side. Subtitles are also split.
Gradually, the film descends into a nightmare. The actresses prepare to a scene on which they are burnt at the stake. The film frequently references to Carl Dreyer’s classic Day of Wrath (1943), in which a woman is accused of witchcraft during the Middle Ages, and numerous females are burnt alive throughout. The crew is constantly arguing and shouting at each other. An aspiring filmmaker is trying to tell Charlotte about his upcoming project. Charlotte receives a telephone call informing her that her daughter has possibly been abused at school. All of this takes at the same time in the setting. It’s impossible to work out exactly what’s going on. Noe splits the screen in two, then in three. Conversations in different languages take place simultaneously. Tempers reach the point of ebullition. Gainsbourg is tied to the stake. She panics. It’s not clear whether she’s acting or indeed scared for her life. Guaranteed to piss off #MeToo enthusiasts without a sense of irony.
Lux Aeterna is film about the almighty male auteur who constantly tortures his female subjects. By extension, it’s a film about sexism in the film industry. Directors believe that they are God, and their formidable attitude can intimidate and scare the vulnerable actresses. Ultimately, cinema is a curse. And the filmmaker isn’t God, but the devil himself. We learn that Dreyer left his actress for two hours at the stake, and that the horror on her face was probably very real. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard and Luis Bunuel are quoted (their names, however, aren’t clearly displayed). I found it strange Werner Herzog was missing. The German director infamously threatened his cast with violence and even murder.
Cinephiles and film professionals will likely appreciate Lux Aeterna. It will do well in film festival across the Globe. The movie constantly references such events. At one point, the Cannes tune can be heard in the background. The broader public, however, will likely find the film pretentious and self-conceited. They Latin title and the numerous references will alienate those less familiar with the history of the seventh art.
Lux Aeterna premiered at the 72nd Cannes International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. The screening was scheduled to begin at 00:15, but it was about 4o minutes late. Keen viewers had to wait outside in their tuxedos and evening dresses under the rain while the Festival vacated the 2,309-seater, and the director and cast walked up the red carpet. Perhaps that was part of the film gimmicks: audiences were made to suffer both inside and outside the cinema.
On Arrow Films on June 3rd, 2022.