Review: ‘Lux Æterna,’ starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Béatrice Dalle

July 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Lux Æterna” (Photo courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures)

“Lux Æterna”

Directed by Gaspar Noé

Some language in French and German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in France, the comedy/drama film “Lux Æterna” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: One the film set of a movie about a witch hunt, the atmosphere of the set quickly descends into chaos. 

Culture Audience: “Lux Æterna” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Gaspar Noé, star Charlotte Gainsbourg and visually striking movies that don’t follow a traditional narrative structure.

A scene from “Lux Æterna” (Photo courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures)

People who watch the boldly unconventional “Lux Æterna” will get more out of it if they know it’s a satirical fever dream that unfolds in “real time.” In other words, forget about getting to know the characters in depth during this 51-minute movie. Underneath the rambling dialogue and chaotic scenes, “Lux Æterna” is a snapshot of how a movie set can reflect gender politics in society.

Gaspar Noé wrote and directed “Lux Æterna,” which had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. People who are familiar with arthouse movies might already know that Noé is a very divisive filmmaker. The central characters in his movies tend to be very “unlikable.” Regardless of how people feel about Noé as a filmmaker, his movies are unquestionably memorable.

If “Lux Æterna” had been at least 90 minutes, it would have been a complete chore to watch. But a 51-minute running time for this movie just enough time for “Lux Æterna” to make a point without being repetitive. There’s not much to the screenplay (which looks very improvised), except to show—in a mockumentary cinéma vérité style—how quickly a movie set can shatter illusions that the movie set is a safe “bubble” but can actually cause a lot of the same chaos that exists in the “real world.” All of the “Lux Æterna” cast members portray versions of themselves with the same names.

“Lux Æterna” opens with director Béatrice Dalle having a freewheeling discussion with actress Charlotte Gainsbourg on the set of a movie they’re doing together. This unnamed movie, which is about a witch hunt, is being filmed in an unnamed location in France. Before they begin filming a scene where three witches will be burned at the stake, Béatrice asks Charlotte, who portrays one of the witches: “Have you ever been burned at the stake?” Charlotte says no.

The two women then discuss their careers and romantic entanglements that they’ve had during film shoots. Béatrice tells Charlotte: “I’ve never seen you in shit films.” Charlotte replies, “Oh, sure. I’ve done loads.”

Charlotte then talks about how she had a sexual hookup with an unnamed younger male co-star, who ejaculated on her leg during a sex scene that they filmed together. “The director told him he should’ve jacked off beforehand,” Charlotte adds. Charlotte then reveals that this younger co-star was 16. (In most of Europe, the minimum legal age of consent to have sex is 16.)

Béatrice mentions her difficulties with two producers, whom she calls Tic and Tac. She describes them as creeps who are “my Fagin and Scrooge,” in reference to the villains in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Later, Béatrice will experience a new slew of agitations on this film set.

In the lead-up to filming the “burning at the stakes” scene, Charlotte is interrupted more than once by an actor named Karl (played by Karl Glusman), who wants to talk to Charlotte about starring in a movie called “Danger,” which will be his feature-film directorial debut. Charlotte politely tells Karl that she’s too busy to discuss his movie, but he still bothers her about it. Charlotte is also pestered for an interview by a middle-aged man who works as a journalist for a magazine called Cinematic Eye.

Meanwhile, an actress named Abbey (played by Abbey Lee), who’s playing a witch in the movie, expresses discomfort and annoyance that she has been asked to do a nude scene that she didn’t agree to in her contract. The movie shows how Abbey’s concerns about this unexpected nudity are constantly dismissed. The more she speaks up, the more she’s made to look like she’s being “difficult” and is holding up the production, until she finally relents and agrees to do the nude scene.

“Lux Æterna” shows a lot of people talking over each other and sometimes shouting as the atmosphere on the set grows more hostile and disorderly. What does this say about director Béatrice, who eventually has a meltdown? Did she lose control of the film set because she’s incompetent, or was she outnumbered by too many people on the set who disrespected her authority?

“Lux Æterna” lets viewers make up their own minds, but the movie set depicted in “Lux Æterna” is clearly intended to be a microcosm of how women are often treated in a male-dominated world. The last 10 minutes of “Lux Æterna” have a lot of strobe light flashing that’s intended to make viewers very uncomfortable. (The beginning of “Lux Æterna” has a viewer discretion warning about these flashing lights.) The final images in “Lux Æterna” send a powerful message that when women are often shamed, demeaned or misunderstood for being who they are, they won’t always get a fairytale ending of someone coming to their rescue.

Yellow Veil Pictures released “Lux Æterna” in select U.S. cinemas on May 6, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on June 10, 2022.

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