Planetarium, by Rebecca Zlotowski, follows American sisters, Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp), who travel to Paris in the 1930’s, as performing spiritualists and mediums. The pair performs a séance with innovative French producer André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), who becomes obsessed with the sisters’ individual talents, and he offers Laura and Kate the chance to perform on film. As André endeavours to capture their gifts on camera, the two sisters are drawn into the lavish world of French cinema.
Zlotowski’s film draws on historical facts, inspired by French film producer Bernard Natan, an innovator of modern French cinema, who was imprisoned by the French authorities and sent to Auschwitz during the Second World War. Zlotowski was also inspired by film’s ability to capture ghosts – that is, to preserve images of real people who have since died, but who live on in the cinema. The film acts as critique of French cinema before it was revolutionised by visionaries such as Bernard Natan.
The film attempts to cover many dense issues simultaneously, leaving the audience without sufficient depth in any of them. The haphazard plot and pared-back dialogue leaves a lot to the audience’s interpretation, shrinking away from the characters’ emotional resolutions. While Depp and Portman, both fluent in French, excel in their respective roles, the expectation generated for a film starring such notable actresses falls rather flat.
However, the striking visual effects of lighting and transitions, and the vivid colours and costuming, collide to create a narrative suspended in a bubble of surreal romanticism, reflecting the sisters’ blissful ignorance of the pre-war crisis unfolding around them.
Overall, Planetarium is unnerving, thrilling and subtly erotic as one expects from classic French cinema. I rate this film 7/10.
Planetarium opens at the 28th annual Alliance Française French Film Festival at Luna Palace Cinemas from 15 March to 5 April. You can check out all the films here.