Lux Æterna

Lux Æterna

2022, NR, 52 min. Directed by Gaspar Noé. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Béatrice Dalle, Abbey Lee, Mica Argañaraz.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 20, 2022

Cinema is a time machine that occasionally goes backward. It's a trick that Gaspar Noé used in his still-controversial international breakout success Irréversible, but it's a trick that's been played on him with his two most recent releases. Vortex, his tragic and nuanced look at a couple in the last days of their lives, arrived in theatres two weeks before Lux Æterna, even though the Argentinian director finished his latest release three years ago.

The order is important, as it's tied up in a vital event in his chronology. Noé had a stroke in 2020, and Vortex has been seen in that context, as the enfant terrible growing up and facing his mortality. Yet while Lux Æterna is undoubtedly a part of his younger, wilder work, it's also an indicator that a change was coming for the filmmaker. It's full of the overblown psychotronic energy of his prior films, but there's a restraint that sets it apart. If anything, the biggest complaint about Noé's earlier films is his determination to shock, often to the detriment of the story. Fortunately, Lux Æterna barely has a story, in any traditional sense. It is, instead, about an event: a film set that plunges into madness. It's a setup that resonates with his drug freak-out fizzle Climax, but while that was style drowning substance, instead Lux Æterna gives those two halves of his creative process equal time.

Indeed, the opening is undeniably a precursor to Vortex: a two-hander, captured on two cameras (each following a separate character and their POV) and projected side by side. Rather than the aging couple of Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun spinning away from each other, this scene captures nothing but intimacy. Two actresses – Dalle and Gainsbourg, playing iterations of themselves – meet on the set of an indie film. It's Dalle's first time directing, and she sits in the back with her fellow actress as they swap war stories about misogyny in the industry, witch trials (the subject of her film), and embarrassing old films and old lovers. Men interject, from desperate young filmmakers looking to con the women into their next project to bored techs looking for directorial guidance. Eventually, the grime of the green room becomes pure blocks of primary color as the production breaks down for increasingly unclear reasons.

Lux Æterna is barely a film – even Noé has called it an essay – but then it's not meant to be complete. Created in five days on Yves Saint Laurent's franc (one has to wonder what they thought they were getting), it's a discussion, not a conclusion. Every theme is one that Noé has clearly thought about a lot, but he's not solidified those thoughts into an opinion. Dalle and Gainsbourg's conversation about abusive sets, about nudity, about women in cinema, is absolutely enthralling, like watching an early D.A. Pennebaker on-the-tour-bus music documentary. It's all in contrast to the audiovisual carnage of the second half, where absolutely nothing happens but it does so in a combustive display of son et lumière, with Noé seemingly rejecting the blood and sweat and cum of his earlier seedy body horror. At the same time, the second half feels so dominated by the visuals and the sounds that they obfuscate Noé's overall purpose, and no number of clips from Dreyer's Day of Wrath or quotes from Godard fix that. There's an unshakeable feeling that the bigger the screen and louder the sound system, the better Lux Æterna becomes. Not bad for what was supposed to be a 15-minute fashion commercial.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Gaspar Noé Films
Vortex
French cinema’s enfant terrible faces the horrors of growing old

Steve Davis, May 6, 2022

Climax
Gaspar Noé's acid freakout dance-a-thon teaches us that drugs are bad, m'kay

Richard Whittaker, March 1, 2019

More by Richard Whittaker
Putting the Art into Fart: Peter Strickland Heats Up <i>Flux Gourmet</i>
Putting the Art into Fart: Peter Strickland Heats Up Flux Gourmet
The filmmaker traces how industrial music informed his new work

June 24, 2022

The Black Phone
Ethan Hawke is a villain for the ages in this brilliant horror

June 24, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Lux Æterna, Gaspar Noé, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Béatrice Dalle, Abbey Lee, Mica Argañaraz

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle