Auteur-provocateur Gaspar Noe teams up with Beatrice Dalle, Charlotte Gainsbourg and a VIP section’s worth of Instagram-friendly faces — models, actors, DJs and “It” girls and boys du jour — to craft Lux Aeterna, a promotional film for Saint Laurent made under the production patronage of the fashion brand’s current artistic director Anthony Vaccarello. It’s nowhere near as compelling as his last feature, the dance-horror story Climax. Nevertheless, this cheeky film-within-a-short-film follows a similar trajectory to the last, moving from comic improvisational chatter to anarchic chaos and violence featuring beautiful people, this time in more expensive clothes, all by Saint Laurent.
The concise 51-minute running time probably means this was conceived to fit TV schedules and then have some sort of viral life beyond on the interwebs. But a few fests will probably shine Lux‘s light in a midnight slot just like Cannes, where its brevity is an asset.
Projected in an extra widescreen ratio so split-screen can be used throughout, the story unfolds in a hectic series of long Steadicam takes, sometimes showing simultaneously two or three views of the same set of characters or two scenes happening at the same time in different places. Either way, it’s a pretty nimble bit of editing for Jerome Pesnel and Marc Boucrot, abetted by a Ken Yasumoto refined sound work that guides the listener’s ears to the more important bits of dialogue in turn.
As ever, the cinematographic contribution from DP Benoit Debie, who has worked with Noe on all his features since 2002’s Irreversible, sanctifies the material immeasurably, with gloriously lapidary lighting schemes and swooping, soaring movements that always make Noe’s films feel so kinetic. He has a particular knack for shooting women so as to make them look stunning but also natural and even a little freakish at the same time, getting great angles even with distorting lenses. With Benoit, nearly everyone looks gorgeous but also a little bit wasted, which is handy not just for Noe’s films but also the ones he’s shot for Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers, The Beach Bum).
With all this visual and aural opulence to ogle, the story feels almost secondary, but there is one there, crafted perhaps with more deliberation than the staged shambles might suggest. The idea is that Dalle, playing like most of the cast either herself or a near facsimile thereof, is directing a movie starring Gainsbourg. About 10 minutes at the start just observes them in some kind of green room adjoining the set, smoking and drinking, while mostly Dalle gabs away in her hoarse growl of a voice about the burning of witches at the stake in film and history, which will be the next scene they’re going to shoot. Also on discussion: embarrassing lovers they’ve had, embarrassing films they’ve been in and how much the producers of the film are trying to sabotage her movie.
And sure enough, it looks like producer Yannick (Yannick Bono) is indeed plotting against her, assigning a videographer to follow her around and film everything so they can find a good reason to fire her. To be honest, Beatrice doesn’t look entirely in control of the set, prone to going off in a corner to cry or fawn over Charlotte or fight with the cinematographer Max (Maxime Ruiz), who is also in cahoots with Yannick to take over the movie, or at least be secretly its real director.
The crew and cast prepare in shambolic fashion for the big scene where Gainsbourg and two or three other women will be tied to a stake like witches while wearing short cocktail dresses. Gainsbourg gets an asymmetric, scrunched-up number in red leather cut super high to show off her astonishing legs, while models Abbey Lee (who was a hoot in The Neon Demon) and Mica Arganaraz are dressed in on-brand little black dresses with diamante nets draped over the arms and, in Lee’s case, bare breasts. The naked bits, she complains to the producers, weren’t in her contract and will cost them extra.
Meanwhile, Gainsbourg gets a call from her young daughter at home being minded by a nanny who tells her that some other other children at school hurt her that day, because it seems as if Noe is nearly incapable of making a film in which something nasty doesn’t happen to a child. The call freaks Charlotte out, and she’s not entirely concentrating when something starts to go terribly wrong on set, the strobe lights start up, the sound becomes an auditory assault and any epileptics in the audience would be well advised to close their eyes for the remaining five minutes.
In other words, it’s all business as per Noe usual, right down to the sans serif titles that intersperse the action periodically, seemingly at random, with either credits for the film itself or pretentious quotes about creation attributed to “Jean-Luc” or “Rainer W.” It doesn’t represent any kind advance on Noe’s craft, but given that he’s made all kinds of music videos and advertising work throughout his career, this isn’t any kind of backwards step into commercialism. In fact, the matchup between his aesthetic and Saint Laurent’s is very synergistic in corporate terms, both of them brands that exude a certain decadent excess and poisonous beauty. You could say it’s a match made in heaven, although it’s clear Noe prefers hell, a realm mentioned several times here and alluded to often in his films.
Production companies: Saint Laurent, Vixens, Les Cinemas de la Zone
Cast: Beatrice Dalle, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Abbey Lee, Anatole Devoucoux du Buysson, Clara 3000, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Felix Maritaud, Fred Cambier, Karl Glusman, Lola Pillu Perier, Loup ‘Vuk’ Brankovic, Luka Isaac, Maxime Ruiz, Mica Arganaraz, Paul Hameline, Philippe Mensah, Stefania Cristian, Tom Kan, Victor Sekularac, Yannick Bono.
Director-screenwriter: Gaspar Noe
Producers: Anthony Vaccarello, Gary Farkas, Olivier Muller, Clement Lepoutre, Gaspar Noe
Director of photography: Benoit Debie
Production designer: Samantha Benne
Costumes: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello
Music supervisor: Pascal Mayer
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Midnight)
Sales: Wild Bunch