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LES ARCS 2023

Review: Jupiter

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- Benjamin Pfohl catches us off guard with a captivating and cleverly executed first feature film about a young woman introduced by her parents to an undoubtedly troubling community

Review: Jupiter
Mariella Aumann, Andreas Döhler and Laura Tonke in Jupiter

"You should give Lea the chance to lead a normal, happy life". It’s customary to see a teenage girl hesitating between her parents’ way of life and a natural desire for emancipation, but when that family are also negotiating a post-apocalyptic, sectarian environment, a dilemma like this takes a particularly significant, if not vital, shape. This is the case in Jupiter [+see also:
interview: Benjamin Pfohl
film profile
]
, German director Benjamin Pfohl’s surprising and thrilling debut feature film which was unveiled in Zurich and has now been screened in the Playtime section of the 15th Les Arcs Film Festival.

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"This planet used to be a perfectly harmonious ecosystem and now we’re bearing witness to all manner of rejection: hurricanes, floods, uncontrollable fires... We’re melting its poles, heating its air and destroying the atmosphere protecting it. This world can no longer stand us". Many of us would agree with these statements; it doesn’t take an expert to interpret the tangible proof available to us of large-scale climactic disorder, which is also incredibly well documented scientifically. But to then believe that humans come from Jupiter and that Earth is a mere colony is a bit of a leap, to say the least. But such is the case for the parents (Laura Tonke and Andreas Döhler) of teenager Lea (Mariella Aumann) and her young autistic brother Paul (Henry Kofahl).

How did they get to this point? This film explores their journey through a skilfully rendered flashback, while, in the present day, a mysterious countdown begins as the family set off for what seems like a weekend in a remote, rural community: a tight-knit and ecstatic group led by a charismatic guru (Ulrich Matthes) who have come together on the occasion of the comet Calypso which is expected to pass by Earth very closely. But whilst Lea - who’s been extricated from a party for the occasion - might wholly buy into the sect’s astro-mystical creed, not to mention their deep love for family, she’s just as attached to her friends, her studies, love, maybe, her mobile phone and everything else teenage girls aspire to. To what extent will she obey the doxa adopted by her parents? And what exactly is brewing at the heart of the community?

This isn’t the first film to explore the world of cults (its predecessors range from The Dazzled [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
to Midnight Special, to name but two very different approaches), but Benjamin Pfohl and his co-screenwriter Silvia Wolkan tackle the topic from a particularly intelligent angle. Anchoring the abnormal in an incredibly normal context – a family like any other who are struggling to raise an autistic child and whose despair is subsumed within the vaster ecological issues of our age -  the film demonstrates very clearly how (self) indoctrination can take hold, despite the best of intentions. And the director’s choice of an endearing teen torn between conflicting loyalties as his main witness helps to generate gripping and ever-increasing levels of suspense, whilst maintaining tight control over the story’s suggested dénouement. These many qualities result in a movie which is actually a wonderful surprise, despite not boasting excessive production resources, and a director whose next work we’ll be looking forward to immensely.

Jupiter is produced by Dreifilm in co-production with ZDF - Das kleine Fernsehspiel, and will be distributed in Germany by missingFilms..

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(Translated from French)

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