Lux Æterna – Film Review
Cinema is a time machine that sometimes goes backwards. It’s a trick that Gaspar Noé used in his still controversial international success Irreversiblebut it’s a trick that has been played on him with his last two outings. Vortexits tragic and nuanced look at a couple in the final days of their lives, hit theaters two weeks before Lux Aeternaeven though the Argentinian director finished his last outing three years ago.
The order is important because it is tied to a vital event in his timeline. Noah had a stroke in 2020, and Vortex was seen in this context as the enfant terrible who grows up and faces his mortality. Yet while Lux Aeterna undoubtedly part of his younger and wilder work, it was also an indicator that a change was coming for the filmmaker. It’s full of the over-the-top psychotronic energy of his earlier films, but there’s a restraint that sets it apart. If anything, the biggest complaint about Noah’s earlier films is his determination to shock, often to the detriment of the story. Fortunately, Lux Aeterna barely has a history, in any traditional sense. It is rather an event: a film set that plunges into madness. It’s a setup that resonates with its dope fizz Climaxbut while it was style drowned stuff, instead Lux Aeterna gives these two halves of his creative process equal time.
Indeed, the opening is undeniably a precursor of Vortex: a two-handed, captured on two cameras (each following a separate character and his POV) and projected side by side. Rather than the aging couple of Dario Argento and Francoise Lebrun drifting apart, this scene captures nothing but intimacy. Two actresses – Dalle and Gainsbourg, playing iterations of themselves – meet on the set of an independent film. It’s Dalle’s first time directing, and she sits in the back with her fellow actress as they swap war stories about misogyny in the industry, witch trials (the subject of her film) and embarrassing old movies and old lovers. Men step in, from desperate young filmmakers looking to scam women in their next project to bored technicians looking for directorial advice. Eventually, the grime of the green room becomes pure blocks of primary color as production breaks down for increasingly unclear reasons.
Lux Aeterna is barely a movie – even Noah called it an essay – but it’s not meant to be complete. Created in five days on Yves Saint Laurent’s franc (you have to wonder what they thought they were getting), it’s a discussion, not a conclusion. Each theme is one that Noah clearly thought a lot about, but he did not solidify those thoughts into an opinion. Dalle and Gainsbourg’s conversation about abusive sets, about nudity, about women in film, is absolutely thrilling, like watching one of DA Pennebaker’s first music documentaries on the tour bus. All of this contrasts with the audiovisual carnage of the second half, where absolutely nothing happens, but it does in an explosive display of sound and light, with Noah seemingly spurting blood, sweat and semen from his earlier seedy body horror. At the same time, the second half seems so dominated by visuals and sounds that they obscure Noah’s overall focus, and no number of Dreyer’s clips. day of anger or quotes from Godard correct that. There’s an unwavering feeling that the bigger the screen and the louder the sound system, the better. Lux Aeterna bECOMES. Not bad for what was supposed to be a 15-minute fashion ad.