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Club Zero

Teacher at an upper-class school convinces a small group students that they are better off without food at all, in Jessica Hausner's bizarre mockery of anti-capitalistic conspiracy - live from the 76th Cannes Film Festival


The director of Little Joe (2019) is back with a similarly colourful and strange little film. Club Zero is an absurdist, deadpan comedy with a touch of sci-fi and some awkward social commentary. It is intentionally wacky and – precisely for that reason – delicious to watch. Preferably on an empty stomach.

Miss Novak (played by a hilarious robotic and self-righteous Mia Wasikowska) convinces a small group of students to embark on a “Conscious Eating” diet. They minimise the amount of food that they consume by endlessly staring at each bite before in insert it into their mouthes. The super-rich parents become increasingly despondent, but the students remain loyal to the eccentric teacher. Well, it isn’t just the teacher that’s unusual. Club Zero takes place in an undisclosed nation at an undisclosed time. The language is English, and most of the accents are British, however the architecture suggests a foreign country. Some of the topics (such as veganism) are current, one of the students communicates with his parents on a 21th century videoconferencing platform akin to Zoom, however the clothes, the furniture and the extravagantly plush colour-palette suggest the 1970s. Eerie, distant, irregular drumming and occasional humming provides the film with an extra layer of wackiness, detaching it even further from reality.

“Conscious Eating” eventually morphs “Club Zero”, a very exclusive society in which members don’t eat at all. That’s right. Miss Novak convinces her students that ingesting food is a lie forced upon us by the establishment. They could curtaill consumerism, confront capitalism, save themselves and the planet by simply refusing to ingest any food. Ever again. Just like a real freedom fighter!

The Austrian filmmaker had previously satirised resistance to the pharmaceutical industry (and science more broadly) by likening antidepressants to alien forces, in Little Joe. This time she takes aim at conspiracy theorists altogether, and the tedious argument that they are valiant warriors combating a deeply rooted untruth. Miss Novak insists that she knows the truth, and that everything we have ever been told (in this case about food) is fake. She offers no evidence whatsoever to support her claims. This will probably ring some bells: you have probably met a few smug conspiracists yourself.

This is a movie dotted with cringeworthy moments. The identically dressed students acting in unison is particularly weird, and their awkward silence combined with the dispassionate, wide-eyed expression on their face is guaranteed to elicit laughter. The problem is that this technique becomes a little monotonous after a while, and the film struggles to justify its duration of nearly two hours. Still, worth a viewing. You might want to invite a flat earther, a Covid denier, or some other conspiracist to join you. They might find the experience enlightening!

Club Zero has just premiered in the Official Competition of the 76th Cannes Film Festival. DMovies is live at the event unearthing the dirtiest movies exclusively for you.

By Victor Fraga - 22-05-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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