Sat. Dec 7th, 2019

Cannes Review: Gaspar Noé’s ‘Lux Æterna’ makes a mockery of its own message

Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Lux Æterna (© Gaspar Noé)

Is Gaspar Noé’s Lux Æterna a big middle finger to the Time’s Up/Me Too movement? Or is it his way of being woke to the plight of women in the film industry? Knowing how Noé operates, it could be one, both, or neither. As one of the most apathetic directors in existence, his films tend to reveal the primal aspects of human nature. Most of all, he’s got a particular affinity for the torture and abuse of women in his movies and is known to sometimes involve his personal politics in his stories. Not like he cares. He makes films for him and if you don’t like it, oh, well.

Lux Æterna is no different in terms of story from what we’re used to from Noé, but he does differentiate this movie from his previous films by portraying the agony of women in a cerebral way opposed to physical shock value.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Béatrice Dalle open the film discussing their acting careers. The specific subject revolves around their roles as witches at various points in their lives. They they giggle and laugh throughout the conversation, but this is used to distract the audience from the core of the discussion, which is abject harassment. It’s a startling scene, and hard to tell if they are laughing to hide the pain or laughing because to them it’s no big deal.

Once the actresses finish their discussion, they split up, and in the blink of an eye they are now on a movie set. Dalle is the director of this film and the concept is witches. Gainsbourg, Abby Lee, and Clara Deshayes are the main cast of witches.  They are shooting a scene where they are being burned at the stake and everyone on set is on edge. However, the men are handling the pressure better than the women. Anxiety is heightened once the men demand more from the actresses. The more they demand, the less power the women retain over their body and their choices.

In one scene, a journalist approaches Charlotte Gainsbourg and claims he saw her in a movie at the “female film festival,” and you have to shake your head at the absurdity of it all—but the message is clear. Film sets are chaotic, and ladies, thats just what comes with the territory. It’s her own damn fault if they can’t keep up.

Tensions further escalate as strangers show up on set and command the attention of the every woman in the vicinity. Actor Karl Glusman wants Gainsbourg to star in one of his films. Dalle fights off an intrusive cameraman and pushy journalist who appears out of nowhere. Lee and Deshayes case off an intrusive cameraman. These strangers serve no other purpose but to interpose upon the space of women. At its peak, Lux Æterna goes into full sensory overload for 20 minutes with strobe light effects and a nightmarish mix of color and sound so disrupting; your body is bound to react.

Gaspar Noé’s has an undeniable style that uses striking imagery and explosive sound to offend the senses. He breaks traditional cinematic rules with long, erratic takes, and shots so shaky and unfocused it can induce motion sickness. The camera is in constant motion unless something tragic is happening. Noé wants your full attention to whatever trauma is transpiring in a scene. Lux Æterna puts all his cinematic neurosis on display and crams it into 50 minutes. The result is an experience that relies solely on the mental anguish of the cast, crew, and those in the audience.

Lux Æterna is Latin for “Eternal Light.”  Noé’s film titles tend to have a relation to the content of the movie, but it’s difficult to discern that relation is here. The movie pretends to have good intentions but makes a mockery of its message at women’s expense. Despite this, it’s the type of material the Cannes audience will embrace without questioning its purpose.

The film doesn’t need a reason to exist because the director doesn’t care who watches. All that matters is he’s satisfied with the conclusion, and that his message is clear enough for him to understand. How pretentious is that?

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