Gaspar Noé is a terribly unique filmmaker. His films have been notorious for decades but despite his infamous stature, his 2019 film Lux Æterna has been impossible to see in North America…until now. Thanks to the tireless work of the mavericks at Yellow Veil Picture (Luz, Hellbender) and the mad genius of the programmers at Panic Fest, the psychedelic witchy freakout that is Lux Æterna has finally been unleashed.
If you’re already a fan, then you’re already sold but it can be hard to describe a Gaspar Noé (Climax) movie to anyone unfamiliar with his previous work. Like David Lynch or Lloyd Kaufman, Gaspar Noé movies are a genre all their own. They almost always deal with sensitive topics and seem very intent on making you feel as uncomfortable as possible. If most filmmakers make movies for the heart, Noé makes movies for the tiny collection of cells in your brain that control your sanity. Just grabbing a seat for a new Noé is a dare you make with yourself. I bet I can handle this. I bet I won’t have a seizure. I bet I’ll understand wtf it’s all about.
Lux Æterna is a largely improvised film documenting an hour on the set of a contentious film shoot that is spiraling out of control. The story opens with a conversation between Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist) and Béatrice Dalle (Inside), about film set horror stories and the cinematic beauty of witch burnings. After the two are called to set we see more of the production and all the egos involved. The director hates the producer. The cinematographer hates the director. The stars hate their co-stars. The knives are out all around the set and by the time Charlotte takes her place at the gallows, the angry mob in front of the camera is nearly indistinguishable from the cast and crew screaming and threatening each other’s careers.
The entire cast of the film plays fictional versions of themselves which only adds to the meta quality of the story. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that film sets can be incredibly stressful environments. To the outside observer, they look like nothing more than expensive madhouses for creatives. As Noé portrays it, every film is a trial by fire and your place either around or on top of that fire is never guaranteed. But it’s also hilarious and cutting and brutally honest about the egomania present on so many sets. In between these moments, Noé inserts quotes about the insanity of this profession, drawing comparisons between directors and dictators among other things.
Watching Lux Æterna is a lot like staring directly into a strobe light. You’re definitely going to want to avoid this one if you’re epileptic. Those strobing visuals aren’t uncommon in a Noé film but it is maybe more purposeful here than ever before. An opening card takes a moment to romanticize epilepsy and the euphoric sensation epileptics feel before an attack. On one hand, it sometimes feels like Noé’s obsessed with giving a packed theatre of Cannes snobs seizures, but on the other hand, people suffering from epilepsy in the dark ages were usually accused of communing with the devil and burned at the stake.
In true Noé fashion, Lux Æterna is also a f*cking trip. I can’t imagine what a movie like this looks like on drugs. In fact, I’d go so far to say that it’s downright inadvisable to do drugs while watching this dang movie. Did I fully understand everything he was trying to say? Absolutely not. But did I love watching a 51-minute mockumentary about the madness of moviemaking shot almost entirely in split-screen? Hell yeah, I did! Love him or hate him, there is no other director like Gaspar Noé, and any opportunity to experience his unique brand of creative insanity is a sacrament I happily receive.
“Lux Æterna is a f*cking trip […] Love him or hate him, there is no other director like Gaspar Noé”
Gaspar Noe’s Lux Æterna hits select theatres May 13, after a quick run in New York and Los Angeles beginning May 6. The trippy witchy experimental film was also an official selection of Panic Fest 2022. Follow our continued coverage of the festival HERE and be sure to let us know what you thought of Lux Æterna over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
Review: Lux Æterna (2019)
In true Noé fashion, Lux Æterna is a f*cking trip. Did I fully understand everything he was trying to say? Absolutely not. But did I love watching a 51-minute mockumentary about the madness of moviemaking shot almost entirely in split-screen? Hell yeah, I did! Love him or hate him, there is no other director like Gaspar Noé, and any opportunity to experience his unique brand of creative insanity is a sacrament I happily receive.