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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Review: Meanwhile on Earth

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- BERLINALE 2024: Propelled by an innate sense of mise en scène, Jérémy Clapin makes the great leap from animation to fiction with an astonishing movie intertwining genres

Review: Meanwhile on Earth
Megan Northam in Meanwhile on Earth

"We have to follow a path which follows another path. A path which only we can see". We’d been waiting for Jérémy Clapin’s transition to the fiction feature film world with great curiosity, following the multiple trophies won by his debut feature-length animation I Lost My Body [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jérémy Clapin
film profile
]
(notably nominated for the 2020 Oscar in his speciality and Critics’ Week’s Grand Prize in Cannes 2019) and since the talent displayed by the French filmmaker hinted at a possible shift towards a new film world, albeit a somewhat delicate and rarely attempted transition. But with Meanwhile On Earth, unveiled in the 74th Berlinale’s Panorama section, the director doesn’t disappoint, with a film boldly grafting multiple genres, ranging from science fiction movie to realist drama about the grieving process, with a twist of fairy tale, a whisper of a vast dream, and perhaps even more thrown in.

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"We looked at the sky, we imagined things". The loss of her older astronaut brother Franck, who disappeared in space, has left a gaping hole in the life of Elsa (Megan Northam), who has pressed pause on her plan to study at the Beaux-Arts School in Paris (she’s always drawing) in order to take a job as a carer in a retirement home. Life goes on, "stable in its gradual decline", for her parents and her little brother too, but a memorial statue of an astronaut erected on a roundabout in the town, courtesy of City Hall, is a cruel, daily reminder for the young woman of the absence of the person with whom she shared dreams of space and adventures.

That is, until the day when interference near an antenna catapults Elsa into a parallel dimension: Franck is calling for her help ("we drifted, but now everything is black, there isn’t anyone else. They’re here, they’re floating, they’re watching me, they’re saying that there’s a way and that it all depends on you"). A seed finds its way into her ear, and we slide into the irrational, a voice (channelled by feedback) feeds Elsa instructions and the countdown begins to save Franck ("we need you and you need us. You have to bring us to you"). Playing with fire and entering into the deep, dark forest, just like Tom Thumb, Elsa could never have imagined the terrible tumult which will follow…

Almost conceived as if a log book, the story (penned by the director himself) progresses at a brisk pace, incorporating multi-faceted, B-movie-style action into an authentic existentialist drama about the throes of grief ("can you get out of my head?"). Are we in a dream? A nightmare? In a schizoid state of depression fuelled by imagined memories? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, since the film’s mise en scène takes ownership of the rather playful strangeness of the subject-matter (because the filmmaker also leaves clues – a tattoo suggesting death camps – hinting towards a deeper interpretation around the question of who we’d agree to sacrifice in order to save a loved one). It’s an astonishing and abundant patchwork concealing countless themes beneath its stressfully entertaining exterior, which is carved up by three brilliantly executed animated sequences, enveloped in Dan Levy’s formidable music, and which also provides Megan Northam (who previously turned heads in The Passengers of the Night [+see also:
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interview: Mikhaël Hers
film profile
]
and Spare Keys [+see also:
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) with an outright wonderful role. No doubt Jérémy Clapin will refine these many elements even further during his next awaited voyage into the galaxy of fiction.

Produced by One World Films in co-production with France 3 Cinéma, Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Cinéma, Carcadice and Belgium’s Umedia, Meanwhile On Earth is sold worldwide by Charades.

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