Review by Sean Boelman
Gaspar Noé has gained a cult following for making films that are incendiary and provocative, both in content and form. Lux Æterna, his mid-length movie produced in cooperation with Yves Saint Laurent, isn’t as extreme in what it depicts, it’s perhaps his most formally aggressive work yet.
The film features acclaimed actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Béatrice Dalle making a movie about witches as the production plunges into chaos. As far as meta stories go, Noé’s is certainly very intriguing — but one would expect no less from a filmmaker who has such an interesting relationship with the cinema.
It’s a mere fifty-one minutes long, and while there are certainly elements that could have been expanded, its brevity is a blessing. This is especially the case during the disorienting finale — an obstacle for the film for anyone who is photosensitive, and potentially nauseating even for those who aren’t — which is a visceral experience but one that is mercifully short.
For a movie that is made with a commercial sponsor, it is shockingly deep. The film doesn’t feel like it is an advertisement for Yves Saint Laurent, as they seemingly let him go wild. It’s an essay on filmmaking but not in a way that feels didactic or self-congratulatory, making it a must-see for any cinephiles.
Granted, casual moviegoers probably aren’t going to find anything of value here, but then again, why is anyone who isn’t a hardcore film fan going to see a fifty-minute movie by Gaspar Noé about filmmaking? There are a few narrative through-lines in the show with some of the cast and crew members of the film-within-a-film but none are quite strong.
The best part of the movie is undoubtedly the stellar chemistry between Gainsbourg and Dalle. Obviously, their roles weren’t too big of a stretch for them given that they are playing exaggerated versions of themselves, but they do a fantastic job nonetheless. And while most of this is a two-hander, Abbey Lee also gets some phenomenal moments of her own.
Noé uses split screen in the film, and while it is quite overwhelming at first, it does an excellent job of creating the atmosphere of chaos that reigns over the movie. The use of color is also fantastic, especially during the climactic final moments that are among the most hypnotic images you may ever see committed to film.
Gaspar Noé’s Lux Æterna is an achievement, yet another wonderful entry in his filmography. It may have been made as more of an experiment than anything else, but it’s a fascinating one at that, telling this story in a captivating, enthralling way.
Lux Æterna hits theaters on May 6.