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Planetarium (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival)

Festival, Review Leave a Comment

Two American sisters, the fey Kate Barlow (Lily-Rose Depp) and her more pragmatic elder, Laura (Natalie Portman) travel to Paris on the last leg of a European nightclub tour. Our scene is set shortly before the advent of World War II, and the pair are on-stage mediums, performing seances (the providence of which is never really delved into) for paying audiences. Once in the City of Lights they fall into the orbit of Andre Korben (Emmanuel Salinger) a filmmaker who is entranced by their apparently supernatural abilities and begins to put together a film vehicle for them. Korben wants to film the ghosts the pair summon, but his own personal demons soon come calling, and jealousy between the two sisters threatens to tear them apart.

Planetarium is handsome, sensual, atmospheric, and so oblique in its thematic aims and narrative drive as to be almost impenetrable. The story splits off into a few different directions – Kate is studied by a parapsychologist, Laura fends off the romantic advances of a louche actor (Louis Garrel), while Korben’s private seances with Kate cross over into the sexual, even as Laura uncovers hints of his past perversions – but never quite come back together in a satisfying manner. There are a few vague stabs at mirroring the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, but they don’t really connect; it’s easy enough to describe what happens in Planetarium, but rather more difficult to parse what it’s actually about.

The film is an aesthetic triumph, though, with cinematographer George Lechaptois and the design team constructing a dreamy, hypnagogic vision of period Paris, and it’s enjoyable just to luxuriate in Planetarium‘s languid, slightly paranoid mood for the length of the movie. Still, there seems to something vital missing here. Planetarium is a fascinating curio of a film, but not much more.