Brandon Richardson | 14/03/2017
Rebecca Zlotowski’s third film, Planetarium is packed with stunning visuals and a stellar cast. However, the film is so deeply layered that it left us with more questions than answers.
Planetarium tells the story of American sisters Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp) Barlow. The pair travel across a pre-war Europe using Kate’s supernatural ability to speak with the dead to enthral and bewilder audiences. Their hunt for a big break brings them to a Paris, where they capture the attention of movie-producer André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), who is looking to revitalise the French film industry. However, the uncertainty of the trio’s relationship leads to more and more complications.
There is a lot to like about this film. We are treated to some gorgeous depictions of the golden-era of Paris. Zlowtowski has shot most of the film in the medium to close-up range, giving us a very intimate portrayal of the characters and showcasing the talented cast. There is much homage paid to old cinema, reminiscent of Scorcese’s Hugo, which is enjoyable for film aficionados. With elements of mystery and the supernatural, which create an overlying sense of unease. There’s even discussion about pre-war anti-Semitism in Europe. Portman and Depp both deliver excellent performances, establishing an authentic chemistry between the Barlow sisters. Yet throughout the film, I couldn’t help but ask myself “What is actually going on?”.
There are so many themes presented over the 105-minute runtime that to appreciate them all is near impossible, but only following one or two leaves you with little movie to enjoy. We were fortunate enough to attend a Q&A with Zlotowski after the film, and she explained that it was indeed her main intention to present all these different elements and let the viewer decide what they wanted to take away from her film. While this approach is understandable, the average movie-goer does not get the luxury of having the director explain their film to them afterwards. Although we enjoyed the film for what it is, it could have benefitted from more focus on the relationship between the lead characters instead of branching out to so many areas.
While it has its charms and is a visual pleasure to watch, Planetarium is probably not one for mainstream cinema, but a good experience for the French cinephile.