Lux Æterna review – self-parodic silliness from Gaspar Noé

Noé’s mockumentary about a movie shoot going horribly wrong goes … horribly wrong

Gaspar Noé has followed up last year’s festival smash Climax with this insufficiently diverting anti-climax, showing in Cannes as a special screening out of competition. It is a 52-minute novella-proportioned sketch, all about a movie shoot going horribly wrong. Commissioned to make a quarter-hour TV ad for Yves Saint Laurent, the director persuaded his sponsors to let him pump it up to something bigger, but not that much bigger – something that might qualify as cinema for Cannes, with people dressed in YSL.

Lux Æterna shows Noé reverting to the self-parodic silliness that Climax had taken him past. We get his trademark extended epilepsy-inducing strobe-light effects, and at the beginning, Noé flashes up a quotation from Dostoevsky: “You all, healthy people, can’t imagine the happiness we epileptics feel during the second before our fit …” We get more dark corridors, more claustrophobia, hysteria, madness and the threat of violence – here coded in comic terms. No drugs, though. Perhaps YSL wasn’t on board with that.

The stars are Charlotte Gainsbourg and Béatrice Dalle, playing themselves. Gainsbourg is the star of God’s Work, an exploitation horror about witch trials, evidently inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath. She and a few languid supermodels have to be tied to the stake for the climactic scene. Meanwhile, Dalle has got so furious at the incompetence of the shoot and its endless delays that she is attempting to take over the director’s job. Now the producer is conspiring to get her sacked – a kind of modern-day witch incineration, although Dalle is shown to be an absolute nightmare. All the time the noise and chaos of the infernal darkness is unbearable, and the women are in very serious distress being tied to the stake.

Noé loves quoting famous directors on intertitles between scenes, referring to them by their first names: Carl Theodor, Jean-Luc (Godard) and Rainer W (Fassbinder). Noé is facetiously amused, or least preoccupied by the idea of traumatising the actresses involved in his meta-movie. Gainsbourg has to take a mobile call from her infant daughter, upset because some boys did something something horrible to her “foo-foo”, and she has to take the call in a neighbouring set that is devoted to a forensic pathology thriller – a highly unlikely contrivance created just Noé can have Gainsbourg standing next to a fake dismembered female corpse on the anatomist’s slab.

The best bit of Lux Æterna is at the very beginning, with a hilarious extended conversation between Dalle and Gainsbourg shown in split-screen. They talk about how every actor’s career contains embarrassing movies that they desperately want to forget, in the way their sexual histories contain some loser that they now want to erase from the memory. Gainsbourg then regales Dalle with a cringe-inducing anecdote that has every appearance of being true. In fact, the scene does look like a very believable late-night chat between two actors marooned on location. The rest of it looks like … a Noé film. Those Gaspar Noé movies about hellish nightmares – are they hellish nightmares to make? Like this? Or do they run like clockwork, from nine to five, managed by entirely sober personnel. I suspect the latter, but everyone has war stories, some worse than this. We are waiting for Noé’s next full-length film. Whether Lux Æterna will boost YSL sales is anyone’s guess.

•Lux Æterna screened at the Cannes film festival.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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