Every year Palace Cinemas holds a French Film Festival and every year I tell my friends and family we'll have to go. We never do.
This year my sisters's and I finally broke the cycle and attended a session of the film Planetarium. It was … not what we were expecting.
Planetarium is described as the story of two American sisters, Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp), 'who earn their living through clairvoyance'. They meet Andre Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), a movie-producer determined to capture proof of the supernatural on film, and the sisters' find themselves drawn in to this enterprise.
The problem is Planetarium can't decide exactly what it wants to be. Is it the story of Laura, losing herself in her acting roles? Yes, for awhile. Or is about a rivalry between two sisters? Briefly. Not really. Perhaps it's an exploration of anti-Semitic paranoia in 1930s Paris? Sort of. Or the tale of a predator, obsessed with a teenage girl? Not exactly.
The film, directed by Rebecca Zlotowski and co-written by Zlotowski and Robin Campillo, introduces all these story-lines and more, jumping from one to another, interested only in the ideas at the the surface level, sometimes abandoning them altogether. For example, in the first séance between Kate, Laura, and Korben we meet a faceless man. Who is he? Korben calls him his brother. Kate tells Laura he's not. We never find out the truth. After a few more scenes with the man the film simply moves on.
Where Zlotowski and Campillo do succeed is in the story of Korben's obsession with spiritualism, exploring the effect it has on his friendships, his career, and his mental health. It's interesting to watch Laura and Kate's different roles in this endeavour, as Kate willing gets drawn into Korben's research while Laura just wants to move on from that stage of their life.
And where the screenplay falters, the cinematography of George Lechaptois shines, such as the motif of stars in the night sky, the gorgeous visuals book-ending Planetarium and subtly repeating throughout the film.
If you're a fan of the look of a film, if you're less concerned with story, Planetarium is worth your time. As well as Lechaptois's arresting visuals, editor Julien Lacheray uses dissolves and other scene transitions to give the film the feel of an Old Hollywood movie. My favourite scenes involved the process of 1930s film-making, such as the techniques Korben's team use to depict séances on screen. If, however, you're more interested in plot I'd skip this one entirely. The jumble of story-lines will leave you frustrated.
Until next time,