This was my first big screen experience for a film since seeing Portrait of a Lady on Fire for the second time, 147 days earlier, and it’s another French film directed by a woman, the title literally translating as “Next”. It’s very different in its setting though, being about a woman training to become an astronaut, but there feels like something similar to it, in its scope perhaps or the feeling with which it is imbued.
Like a lot of the best films about space travel, this is really about the human relationships on the ground, to the extent that it never actually goes into space (that would presumably have put it in a different category for the producers trying to scrounge a budget). Still, it’s got Eva Green and she’s giving a fantastic and controlled performance as the leading lady, so it has all the special effects you could possibly want. She plays Sarah, a French astronaut training for her first flight in Germany and then Kazakhstan (nimbly switching languages from line to line, whether German to her husband played by Lars Eidinger, French, English and then Russian), but trying to deal with her daughter (Zélie Boulant-Lemesne) at the same time. You could say that films about male astronauts don’t deal with the family quite so much, but that’s presumably why Matt Dillon is cast as Mike, a sort of lunkish, sexist guy, a very all-American type familiar from the genre, who has rather set ideas about women (though he has his sensitivity at times, too, so it’s not a one-note performance). For the most part I really liked the way the film handled its central themes, but the one moment that lost me a bit was well, no spoilers… but let’s just say that someone breaking quarantine maybe doesn’t go down quite as well in mid-2020 as when this film was made.
Director Alice Winocour; Writers Winocour and Jean-Stéphane Bron; Cinematographer Georges Lechaptois; Starring Eva Green, Zélie Boulant-Lemesne, Matt Dillon, Lars Eidinger, Sandra Hüller; Length 107 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Saturday 8 August 2020.
I’m doing a week theme around Polish films, as today sees the UK cinematic release of Agnieszka Holland’s latest film Mr. Jones. It’s an English-language co-production, and so is today’s film, which I’m including for that tenuous reason. One of the co-producing companies is from Poland and Agata Buzek co-stars, but aside from that there’s not much particularly Polish in it, although there’s something about the film’s very weirdness that puts it up alongside Has or Żuławski or other out-there auteurs.
Claire Denis has made two of my favourite films of two successive decades (that’s Beau travail and 35 Shots of Rum, and a few others I adore besides), but yet I guess I’m not fully subscribed to this latest one. It’s not that it’s broaching new experiences — science-fiction setting, English language screenplay — because a lot of the idiosyncrasies that lie within it are vintage Denis, but I think it may need more time to work itself into my psyche (like L’Intrus, another film of hers that I feel I’ve slept on). It primarily feels like a mood piece, evoking an extraordinary atmosphere of isolation, in a story of one man (Robert Pattinson) and his baby — its helplessness and reliance on him only magnifying the starkness of their situation — as they live on a prison spacecraft flying out towards a black hole. His story is intercut with flashbacks both to his childhood life on Earth (the 16mm photography evoking the infinity of time having since passed), and to a time when there were others on the ship with him, and how he has come to be on his own. There are some really quite indelible scenes, and some incredibly outré setpieces, but always there’s that sublime atmosphere, with its grinding Stuart A. Staples score adding to the mystery, a mystery that never quite resolves but extends outwards, a film drifting inexorably (like the spaceship) towards its own event horizon.
Director Claire Denis; Writers Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau; Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux; Starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek, Lars Eidinger; Length 110 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Saturday 11 May 2019.
I suppose at one level nothing much really happens, nothing overtly melodramatic, but really everything does. There’s an entire relationship in these two hours — between Chris (Lars Eidinger) and Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr), on holiday in Italy — and for a change it’s a fairly believable one. It sort of channels the awkward, uncomfortable feeling you get when you’ve made a couple-y in-joke at an inappropriate moment in mixed company and your spouse glares at you and you shrink inside (well, that’s just Chris’s side). The extent to which you believe these two have a future probably depends on where you are yourself in respect to a relationship, but I’m inclined to the German Weltanschauung. I’m guessing hell is everyone else when you’re together (there’s a particularly dull second holidaying German couple introduced later on), or maybe it’s just these two. It’s a film that’s deeply suggestive (about love, about work, about possible futures) without ever tipping over into judgement.
Director/Writer Maren Ade; Cinematographer Bernhard Keller; Starring Birgit Minichmayr, Lars Eidinger; Length 119 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Monday 16 January 2017.