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Lux Æterna

Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Distributed by: Yellow Veil Pictures

Written by Jeff Sparks

95/100

Gaspar Noé, one of the most controversial filmmakers of all time is back again with an experimental film to push the art of filmmaking in different directions and explore new ideas. The daring artist behind infamous projects like “Climax,” “Irreversible,” “Love,” and “Enter The Void” has created a piece titled “Lux Æterna” which presents two actresses on a hectic film set where tempers flare and confusion erupts, quickly spinning the shoot into a nightmare. This time Noé has an equally daring artist at his side in actress Charlotte Gainsbourg who stars alongside Béatrice Dalle with a supporting cast that includes Abbey Lee Kershaw, Karl Glusman, Claude- Emmanuelle, and Clara 3000. Although the film is a masterwork by Noé, after having seen it several times now I can say its main flaw is that it is not as visually stunning as his other films like “Climax,” “Love,” or even “Enter The Void,” even with his usual cinematographer Benoît Debie who has worked on other spectacles like “Spring Breakers” and “Lost River”. This issue can be attributed to the fact that “Lux Æterna” was funded by Noé’s favorite fashion company “Saint Laurent”, who likely didn’t shill out the funds that Noé is accustomed to. Nonetheless, the film still has its own visual style. Noé fans will notice his usual style of lighting hallways in poppy colors with pinks, reds, and greens illuminating the cast along with new styles such as split screens and cards containing quotes from filmmakers like Fassbinder, Godard, Dreyer, and even Noé himself. 

The film opens up with footage of old witchcraft films like “Day of Wrath” and “Haxan”. The next scene cuts to the present day where two actresses who Noé has referred to as “icons”, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Béatrice Dalle play caricatures of themselves on a film shoot about witches titled “God’s Craft”  that Dalle’s character is directing with Gainsbourg as her lead. Illuminated by a fireplace, the two lounge and discuss topics ranging from witch burnings and faith to filmmaking and nude scenes. Upon standing up and separating the viewer realizes that they will have to watch Dalle and Gainsbourg on two different screens, often speaking two different languages at the same time.  This is Noé’s first tactic he implements to disorient the viewer and lead them toward a sensory overload as he does in many of his films. Following this, the set begins to get out of control with a plethora of annoyances including a young filmmaker (Karl Glusman) pestering Gainsbourg, two reporters stalking Dalle as she repels a takeover by her films producer, and an abusive director of photography (who acts as a meta version of what some people think of Noé) along with a confused actress (Lee Kershaw) complaining to anyone who will listen.

When the crew finally gets the cameras rolling on their film the already hellish looking set turns into an epileptics nightmare of red, blue, and green flashing lights with an ear assaulting beeping noise that lasts for eleven minutes, causing the actresses and the director to have psychotic breakdowns, all to the cinematographer’s bliss. This isn’t the first time Noé has used flashing lights, but here he takes it to the extreme, creating possibly the most visually stunning scene of his career, that is if you can keep your eyes on the screen long enough to see it. The big question is “what does it all mean”. After having seen the film several times, what I get from the experience is that one of the main themes is that Charlotte Gainsbourg is a Christ-type figure in the art of acting. Let me explain. In other films she has done, Gainsbourg has done things that will never be put to the silver screen in the graphic way that they were presented with her again. Scenes of her mutilating her vagina in “Antichrist”, giving herself a homemade abortion, or being whipped in “Nymphomaniac” alongside countless other highly controversial scenes all come to mind. She is a true artist who wants to push the art of filmmaking forward but is often ridiculed and crucified for her dedication. 

In one extended version of “Lux Æterna” (that won’t be screened in theaters), the opening of the film includes a fifteen-minute retelling of Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross with a blinding strobing effect that makes what is happening on the screen barely visible. At the end of “Lux Æterna,” Gainsbourg is abandoned by her two fellow actresses and left to suffer on a witch-burning stake as she melts into the consumption of flashing lights that devour her until she is impossible to see. During the credits the cast and crew are listed with only their first names, representing there are many actors and filmmakers who’ve had to struggle with the chaos that can take over a film shoot, and the only way to prevail as an artist is to have a high level of dedication and block out all the distractions as Gainsbourg does. Obviously, Gainsbourg isn’t the only ultra brave and committed actor in the world. There are many others I can assume Noé would have loved to have represent this theme such as Sally Hawkins or Isabelle Huppert, but Gainsbourg is a perfect example of an extremely dedicated and fearless artist who hasn’t received the notoriety or praise she’s deserved throughout her career. 

As much as I always appreciate Gainsbourgs’ work, her co-star Béatrice Dalle absolutely steals the show in “Lux Æterna”, giving the best performance of her career, in only 51 minutes. Dalle, best known for her debut role in “Betty Blue” in 1986, has bounced around the industry since then and never quite found her footing. In this film she might just be the best actor in the world throughout the year 2022 when it’s all said and done as she reminds the world how talented she is, giving a wild and off the rails performance as the director of this film who quickly loses her mind. To appear more tired and out of control, the actors shot their scenes late at night and mainly used improvisation which proves their skills even more. Even though he shot the film in only a handful of days and on a limited budget Gaspar Noé has once again proven himself to be a master of filmmaking and Charlotte Gainsbourg has reminded us she is one of the few unparalleled actors in the world with “Lux Æterna.”

“Lux Æterna” Trailer

“Lux Æterna” is in limited theatrical release, click here to find a screening near you.

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