Planetarium: The veil of appearances
by Fabien Lemercier
- VENICE 2016: Rebecca Zlotowski brings us a film which is captivating, cryptic and a bit of a crossbreed under its novelistic surface, starring Natalie Portman, Emmanuel Salinger and Lily Rose Depp
"You’ve opened a door that I can’t close". It is a strange world full of mysteries, secrets, subterfuge and misunderstandings that Rebecca Zlotowski conjures up in Planetarium [+see also:
film profile], which was unveiled out of competition at the 73rd Venice Film Festival and will soon be putting in an appearance at the Toronto Film Festival in a gala screening. Somewhere between a dream and a nightmare, between the sparkles of wealth in Paris and the dusk-like hateful darkness of the Second World War looming on the horizon, between the unquenched thirst for contact with the after life and the seductive sunlamps shining on the film stars of the era, the film immerses the viewer in a human and novelistic story on the surface (the story of the encounter between two American sisters who are mediums and a French film producer) which hides deeply evocative dimensions underneath, playing on the underlying theme of the presence and absence of the self.
It is along this shifting boundary of the subconscious, blind visionaries and the fabrication of images, that the film sails subterranously, the third feature of a director pursuing her ‘experiments’ with tenacious daring on the back of the elliptical psychological finesse of Belle épine [+see also:
film profile] (shown in Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2010) and the documented lyricism of Grand Central [+see also:
interview: Rebecca Zlotowski
film profile] (which also made an appearance on the Croisette, in the Certain Regard section in 2013). This time, she’s set the bar a lot higher, both in terms of the cast, with the film starring American star Natalie Portman, and for the multitude of themes incorporated into the storyline. But for Rebecca Zlotowski it hasn’t meant giving up on her inner adventuring, her exploration of the unfathomable, which gives Planetarium a very unique style, and one which is ever so slightly unusual for a ‘traditional’ novelistic tale. It gives viewers of the film a whole series of vague impressions, just like in real life, when instinct tells us that something out of the ordinary is going on without being able to put our finger on exactly what. An atmosphere of the intangible which doesn’t necessarily make the film easy to grasp at first sight, but which is actually a resounding success as it fits perfectly with the subject matter and coded screenplay written by the director with wordsmith Robin Campillo.
My first is a young girl, Kate, who is gifted with being a medium (played by the radiant Lily Rose Depp). My second, her big sister (played by the majestic Natalie Portman) Laura, has the talent of knowing how to sell this bizarre power, whilst sharing the stage with her little sister as she goes into a trance. My third, Korben (played by the outstanding Emmanuel Salinger) runs a film studio and, fascinated and taken aback by their occult séances, takes the two sisters under his wing, with the ambition of ‘filming real phenomena in a world first, unfaked photos of paranormal phenomena" From its lavish start on the film set, where Laura embarks on a career as a famous actress whilst Kate becomes a guinea pig for scientific research, the trajectory of our three protagonists lifts a corner of the veil hiding unexpected secrets in an atmosphere of frenzied parties that becomes increasingly intense, as "you never know when you’re on the brink of war"...
Moving rapidly along the different lines of its plot, Planetarium also stands out for the ultra realistic nature of its images, which distances the film from classic historical reconstructions and strengthens its odd character, deploying almost dreamlike sequences here and there throughout. A hybrid and changing exterior which covers an astonishing and rather undefinable piece weaving fine links in the impenetrable with a delicate layer of fantasy. The film’s relative obscurity is part of both its charm and its mystery, but is above all testament once again to the originality of Rebecca Zlotowski, whose upcoming film adventures we will be keenly keeping an eye out for.
Produced by French company Les Films Velvet and co-produced by France's France 3 Cinéma, Kinology and Belgium's Films du Fleuve, Planetarium is being sold internationally by Kinology [+see also:
(Translated from French)