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Shot on the set of a film about the Salem witch trials, his genre-bending “Lux Aeterna” provides striking insights into the dynamics of filmmaking. Told through informal conversations between French actress Béatrice Dalle and British-French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg about their previous projects and heated arguments between Dalle and the producer, Yannick Bono, about the movie’s direction, “Lux Aeterna” is a brutal yet insightful dive into the power dynamics of creating a film, accented by Noé’s split-screen cinematography and occasional dissolution of the fourth wall.
Dalle and Gainsbourg’s opening discussion of their film careers gives viewers a glimpse of what’s to come, foregrounding an engaging narrative for the remainder of the film. In retelling her experiences with high-strung producers and tyrannical directors, Dalle is very candid about her thoughts on film crews she’s previously been a part of, showcasing the challenges actors face when attempting to realize an external creative vision. When complemented by the quote “Most filmmakers today are like the living dead, and their films are too,” briefly appearing on the screen, Dalle and Gainsbourg’s conversation makes Noé’s goal with “Lux Aeterna” abundantly clear. Conveying the difficulty of realizing a concept while maintaining your passion, Noé’s quote highlights the futility and disillusionment that some creatives may feel while making films.
As the crew begins shooting, chaos ensues with shots of actresses rushed through preparation and costuming. Among these frantic scenes, the creation of a scheme to get Dalle fired from set soon ensues, opposing Dalle’s ambition with that of the male director. Though Dalle’s film is a recreation of the Salem witch trials, she appears to be the one being hunted. Snarky remarks of “I can’t work with her” and “If you follow her long enough, we’ll find something to get her fired,” build the tension between Dalle and other members of the crew.
Despite its tense moments, humor isn’t absent from Noé’s film. Karl — a token “aspiring film director from Los Angeles” who pesters actresses to join his project while later saying they would remember the day they said no to him when he’s rich and successful — adds a lighthearted distraction from the growing strain between Dalle and her staff.
Noé’s signature split-screen cinematography immerses the audience in the production of the film, showing both actresses preparing for scenes and Dalle’s harsh directions for the lighting and sound teams. Steadily darkening lighting and separation between green and red in each frame set the stage for an intense culmination.
Shots of Dalle’s agonizing screaming while actresses are tied to stakes behind a red, green, and blue strobing background are the pinnacle of “Lux Aeterna.” Commands for the lights and sound teans to “Fix this!” overtake the actresses’ pleas for freedom, and angry responses from the producer engulf viewers in a devastating sensory experience. A result of the disconnect between Dalle, her crew, and the creative vision she is fighting to achieve, the strobing lights are Dalle’s last straw. While “Lux Aeterna” means eternal light, this is Dalle’s darkest moment. As the actresses are painfully consumed by the strobing, almost white, lights behind them, Dalle and Gainsbourg are at their worst. By the end, they are struggling to free themselves from their respective enclosures. Gainsbourg is literally tied up while Dalle is figuratively trapped by the producers and staff who despise working with her.
An astounding presentation of a film set, Noé ventures into the visual and auditory extremes to convey his perspective on film-making. Embodying the difficulty that executing an idea can entail, “Lux Aeterna” illustrates the divide between fantasy and reality in the creation of art. Through Noé’s unique simultaneous framing of opposing forces, “Lux Aeterna” presents a grave view of film creation. Communicating the brutality of film production to viewers, Noé’s film is an experience viewers won’t soon forget.
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