‘Club Zero’ review: Jessica Hausner nails the absurdist comedy but fails to go deeper | Cannes
Jessica Hausner’s career launched in Cannes when her film school project Inter-View, figured among the palmares of the Cinefondation competition in 1999. Over the years, she became a regular by bringing Lovely Rita, Hotel, and Amour Fou to Un Certain Regard. Her upgrade to the competition was only a matter of time. When Little Joe premiered in the Cannes competition in 2019, we believed it to be the beginning of a lasting and tacit membership in the competition club of the biggest film festival in the world. Four years have passed since Little Joy premiered to warm reviews as well as the Best Actress prize to its lead actress Emily Beecham for a surprisingly refreshing and quiet performance of a scientist bringing the word of a new mysterious friend in the guise of a dangerous plant.
In her latest film Club Zero, when young teacher Ms. Novak (played by Mia Wasikowska), joins the school to helm a course about nutrition as suggested by the parents of a selected group of students who amount to an appealing ensemble of first-rate newcomers. Novak dedicates her successful sessions to ensuring her group knows all about the benefits of her new subject of “conscious eating” by promising them the certainty of achieving their different goals while also saving the planet and guaranteeing a longer life. The students, elated by this promise of eternity, vow to blindly trust and follow the teacher in the execution of her plan that transforms itself from “conscious eating” to “stop eating.” For this premise to work, we need a real motive behind Miss Novak’s dedicated plan; Unfortunately the grounds are too thin to be believed. Club Zero‘s leading lady is portrayed by the usually wonderful Mia Wasikowska, who isn’t given much to work with and that leads to a dubious sequence of events.
In the wake of the parents’ realization of their children’s new way of life, Club Zero falters by its persistence to spell out all its thematic characteristics. For a director who is expected to deliver audacious propositions of cinema, the film sizzles by presenting the viewer all the hotly discussed themes of the times we live in. Hausner isn’t interested in conversing about major themes she elicits, as an alternative, her mission is to number them; the more the merrier in carefree fashion.
From the outside, familiar audiences may expect Club Zero to be another deadpan exercise from Jessica Hausner, whose work is often compared to Yorgos Lanthimos and Michael Haneke. Evidently, Club Zero offers a selected bouquet of eccentric moments to evoke random laughs from the audience. However, the film lacks the precise clarity of ideas and consistent poignancy of the topical subjects that both provocative auteurs proffer.
Still, it is worth noting that the film works best when it highlights its comedic side which is dominant throughout the film. Hausner’s sense of asymmetrical composition and her immense supervision to perfect a colorful color palette give Club Zero a stylistic resemblance in tone to American teen comedies. Two veteran actresses Sidse Babett Knudsen (playing the school’s headmistress and Elsa Zylberstein (in the role of a student’s mother) accentuate the laughs with complete mastery of the parts they were handed in small supporting roles.
This review is from the 2023 Cannes Film Festival where Club Zero premiered in competition. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.