Métamorphoses: men and deities in the French suburbs
by Vittoria Scarpa
- VENICE 2014: Christophe Honoré revisits Ovid with a modern twist and a cast of young actors who are mostly newcomers
Jupiter and Bacchus could drive a lorry or pop out of a bush next to the motorway, Narcissus could scoot along on a skateboard, and Hermaphroditus could rise up out of some water behind a Carrefour. At least that seems to be what Christophe Honoré wants to suggest to us with his new, surprising work, Métamorphoses [+see also:
interview: Christophe Honoré
film profile], which revisits and puts a modern spin on Ovid's Metamorphoses.
For his ninth feature film, which is in competition at the Venice Days at the 71st Venice Film Festival, the French director is taking his first steps into the field of Greek mythology – an ambitious undertaking and certainly not one without its risks – managing to almost plausibly bring monsters and deities to the suburbs of an unspecified French city, set among grey high-rise blocks, expressways, and a rugged and brutal form of nature. Europa (Amira Akili) is a naïve and adventurous Maghrebi teenager who willingly accepts sweets from strangers. As she comes out of school one day, she climbs into the lorry driven by a charming young man who goes by the name of Jupiter (Sébastien Hirel), who then initiates her into the world of the gods and introduces her to sex; she then meets the merciless Bacchus (Damien Chapelle), who tells her how he turned the daughters of Minyas into bats, and finally she follows the persuasive Orpheus (George Babluani) to his tragic end.
From the whole enormous Ovidian tome, the director has chosen around 20 episodes, interlinking them as if they were a single story. The mythical tales flow freely into each other, depicting human beings who transform into trees one minute and animals the next, a gothic Venus, a Hippomenes who appears to be Chinese, a huge number of naked, beautiful, ugly, fat and thin bodies, and sensual and astonishing stories that see the gods go crazy over the young mortals and come down to Earth to possess them. The pattering of the rain and the rustling of leaves on branches alternate with the rumble of cars hurtling along the motorway; the gorgeously beautiful string soundtrack that underpins some of the scenes nonchalantly gives way to more modern or pop music, showing off the painstaking work that went into creating the film's soundtrack. There are no special effects used to highlight each individual transformation (and the film does lend itself well to this), but rather skilful cuts that, if it were at all possible, surprise us even more: one moment we see the aged Philemon and Baucis bidding each other farewell, and the next, they have become two beautiful, intertwined trees.
“In an age when people only talk about Greece in relation to its ‘debt’, instead I wanted to remind them how much the modern world actually owes to Greek culture and its myths,” explains Honoré. Underpinning the choice of Ovid's Metamorphoses, there is also a homage to the art of cinema: “At the end of the day, what is cinema, if not the ability to transform reality into something new?” With Métamorphoses, its magic and the references it makes to the legends that have been ever-present in our lives, this aim is achieved perfectly. And after watching this film, we will perhaps succeed in discovering the magic present even in the most run-down of places, or at least we will see them in a different light.
(Translated from Italian)