Review by Sean Boelman
French pop star Claire Pommet — better known as Pomme — is making her acting debut at this year’s TIFF in Héléna Klotz’s financial world thriller Spirit of Ecstasy. Although a few of the decisions that went into Spirit of Ecstasy were somewhat questionable, the film is a mostly well-crafted and entertaining picture.
In the movie, Pommet plays a financial analyst who rises out of the ashes from an abrasive family to become a powerful player in the world of finance. Although Spirit of Ecstasy hardly hits any new beats that other films and shows in the genre have not, Klotz does a wonderful job of directing it such that it remains constantly engaging.
The first hour of the movie is an absolute powerhouse of pacing, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat the whole time. It strikes the Succession/Industry balance quite well, where it is technical enough to feel like it is happening in a different world, but not so filled with jargon as to be difficult to follow for the average viewer.
The final thirty minutes are what will make or break the film for most viewers. It is at this point that the pacing basically grinds to a halt, and the movie becomes much more of a character study. It’s interesting — and mostly effective — as we have been spending the last hour rooting for the protagonist to succeed in a world that may have been the problem all along.
All of the below-the-lines here are quite strong — cinematography, editing, production design, score — but their goal is not to call attention to themselves. Instead, they serve to accent the quick, razor-sharp dialogue that is the film’s hero. The result is a movie that is not only thoroughly immersive, but also downright entertaining.
The one thing that really does not work about this film is the decision to have the protagonist be non-binary. Pommet is cisgender, so it’s not a stride for representation in any way (the French seem to have no qualms with casting non-trans actors in trans and NB roles). And to make matters worse, the storyline is underdeveloped to the point of feeling like an afterthought. It feels like the motivation was not altruistic or to serve the story, but for tokenism.
Putting that glaring issue aside, Pommet’s performance is otherwise very strong — especially considering that this is her first role as an actress. And it’s not the type of big, showy turn one would expect from a popstar-turned-actress; it’s much more subtle and quietly emotional, with an excellent use of mannerisms and facial expressions.
Apart from its questionably performative nature, Spirit of Ecstasy is quite a strong movie. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of Pommet as an actress — hopefully in roles where she is properly cast — because she has a subtly gripping screen presence that is a big part of what allows this film to work.
Spirit of Ecstasy is screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.