Gaspar Noé plunges a production into chaos once again with this film about witches and the movie industry
Gaspar Noé has been challenging audiences throughout his career with both his visceral portrayals of graphic content and his experimental filmmaking style. Often described as aggressive visual and sonic assaults, Noé’s films often tackle the violent and sexual taboos of the world through his distinct irreplaceable artistic lens.
Forever the provocateur, Noé has pushed boundaries onscreen with everything from depictions of appalling sexual violence in Irréversible, to first-person disembodied headtrips in Enter the Void, to unsimulated 3-D sex scenes in Love, to improvised long takes of drug-induced mass hysteria in Climax. The man’s got some issues he’s obviously working through with his art.
Lux Æterna sees the director playing with intense strobe lighting and split-screen storytelling. This is the sixth feature from the Argentine / French director and his shortest at only 51 minutes. Yet it serves as a solid, distilled example of Noé and his collaborators’ musings, ideas and unique brand of creative neon-lit chaos.
The film begins with two famous actors, Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg (playing themselves) chatting just off set of their latest film. It’s the directorial debut of Dalle; a film about witches that naturally includes a scene of the accused women being burned alive at the stake. Gainsbourg is playing the lead role and the fiery climactic scene is being shot that day.
The two women swap tales of their careers and experiences making movies, with the conversation naturally turning towards the embarrassing frustrations of working in a male-dominated field. Béatrice seems to believe that whatever humiliations they’re forced to suffer are ultimately worth it so long as the art is good. Charlotte, while not outright disagreeing, may not feel quite the same way.
Noé splits the screen right away with this opening conversation despite the two women sitting right next to each other. It’s a clever way to further convey the minute differences between the two similar women. The chat is appropriately candid and laid back – a calm before the storm, if you will – until the time finally comes to begin setting up for the shoot. Almost immediately, things go from relaxed to hectic and the split-screen becomes an effectively disorienting tool.
As Béatrice and Charlotte separate, the two cameras follow both of them in real time as they walk through dressing rooms and onto the set lit up with hellish reds and oranges. Both of them are accosted by an endless barrage of crew members, extras, publicists, journalists, producers and others as they try to prepare for the day’s work.
The dual cameras both operating hi in real time help truly capture the disorganized chaos of the set, with dozens of people all talking and shouting over each other as smoke and fire steadily fill the room. Charlotte has stylists and makeup artists to contend with as well as an up and coming director looking to cast her in his next project – one of those guys who can’t seem to take a hint when the answer is no. On top of all that, just as she’s about to ready to start the scene, Charlotte receives a distressing phone call involving her daughter back home.
Béatrice has problems of her own, as the various men working on her production have grown tired of her seemingly overbearing direction and are now plotting to wrestle creative control away from her. As everything that could go wrong begins to go wrong, the large screen behind the burning witches suddenly malfunctions and plunges the set into a dizzying and maddening array of strobing colors. It feels like a miniature apocalypse.
Noé’s film deals with aggressions big and small that women deal with on film sets and beyond. Even when, like Béatrice, you’ve managed to claw your way up to the top, there are still just as many people and problems attempting to pull you back down. In his own provocative, hypnotic and distressing way, Noé seeks to visualize that endless breakdown.
‘Lux Æterna’ is available digitally on Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and more.