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Equal parts solemn and sappy, Euphoria marks a well-performed if extremely heavy-handed foray into English-language filmmaking for Swedish director Lisa Langseth. Teaming up once again with Hotel star Alicia Vikander, who also produced under her new shingle Vikarious, this forlorn tale of two sisters working out their many issues in a lavish euthanasia clinic is propped up by its strong lead turns, with Eva Green co-starring as a terminally ill woman who decides to take her own life in a most luxurious fashion.
But once the plot kicks in after the first reel, things head pretty much where you’d expect and all the sisterly bouts of love, hate and lamentation can grow rather tedious, even if Langseth spruces things up with a glossy style that may have set the world record for the number of lens flares used in a single movie. Premiering in Toronto’s Platform competition, the handsomely made drama should be picked up both in the U.S. and abroad, with the Vikander-Green combo luring viewers into art houses and on VOD channels.
Langseth takes little time to establish her premise, uniting rebellious artist Ines (Vikander) and her older sis, Emilie (Green), in an unnamed foreign country, where they spend a night trying to catch up until heading out the next day for a long drive to a mysterious destination. Before they even get there, it’s clear that the siblings are extremely estranged and haven’t seen each other for a long time, although the script holds back any underlying explanations until the drama kicks in full force.
This happens once the women arrive at an exclusive hotel where the wealthiest of the wealthy check in but can’t check out. A sort of maitre d’ explains the rules to them, and Ines is suddenly blindsided by the fact that Emilie has incurable cancer and has opted to end her life on her own terms. She will be assisted in this task by a serene caretaker played by Charlotte Rampling — if anyone’s going to help ease you into a painless and exquisite death, it’s Rampling — while the sisters are given six days together until the bell tolls (this literally happens when people die there).
While Langseth focuses much of the drama on Ines’ and Emilie’s difficult but inevitable reconciliation, we also get to spend some time exploring the clinic, which looks like someone binge-read Zen and the Art of Gardening before designing it. Most of the guests, including a filthy rich Englishman (Charles Dance) with a taste for ‘60s Brit rock, are more or less intolerable, arranging their curated deaths in unbearably pretentious ways — one woman has a string quartet play dissonant music as she walks off naked into the darkness — and wallowing in their entitled misery.
It’s hard to have much compassion for a bunch of one-percenters who, unlike everyone else on earth, get to pay top dollar to end their lives like bad pieces of performance art, but luckily the fraught relationship between Ines and Emilie offers a solid enough backbone to hook us, at least in the film’s early stages. As we come to learn, Emilie holds a major grudge against Ines for cutting out when their parents divorced and their mother fell into the deep depression, leaving the older sis to pick up the pieces while the free-spirited artist traveled the world and had threesomes.
The push-and-pull between the two gives us a few strong scenes, with Green lashing out — a bit too excessively in places, but her character is dying — and Vikander fielding many blows before Ines is more or less pummeled into opening up and embracing reality. The Swedish actress and next Lara Croft, whose first feature role was in Langseth’s 2010 film Pure, is especially good as a skeptical, sometimes humorous witness to the outlandish setting, with the camera looming in close-up as she discovers a world she only wants to leave.
But given the general lack of ambiguity, it’s easy to predict that Ines will learn to stop worrying and accept high-priced euthanasia, with the closing scenes offering up an uneasy mix of New Age-y extermination practices and treacly appeasement. The combination leaves us cold despite Langseth’s indulgence in sun-dappled cinematography and tasteful production design, and as dark as it tries to be at times, Euphoria ultimately asks us to look death in the eye and call it gorgeous.
Production companies: B-Reel Films, Vikarious Film, Dancing Camel Films
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Eva Green, Charlotte Rampling, Charles Dance, Mark Stanley, Adrian Lester
Director-screenwriter: Lisa Langseth
Producers: Alicia Vikander, Patrik Andersson, Frida Bargo, Charles Collier
Director of photography: Rob Hardy
Production designer: Christian M. Goldbeck
Editor: Dino Jonsater
Composer: Lisa Holmqvist
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Platform)
Sales: Great Point Media
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