Quite a few doubtlessly fascinating concepts orbit each other in Planetarium, however none boasts adequate gravity to advantage a touchdown, it appears. Set in 1930s France, the movie begins intriguingly sufficient, introducing Laura (Natalie Portman) and her a lot youthful sister, Kate (Lily-Rose Depp), as they carry out a public séance for a big paying viewers. Kate makes contact with the spirits, whereas Laura orchestrates the human drama (accompanied by a bongo drummer, for some motive); initially, it’s unclear whether or not they’re con artists or we’re meant to simply accept Kate’s present at face worth. Actually, rich movie producer André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger, the star of Arnaud Desplechin’s early movies) believes them, as he first arranges a personal séance, then invitations the 2 ladies to dwell with him, then arranges to have them star in one among his films, kind of as themselves, hoping to really seize a ghostly picture on digital camera. Which all sounds very promising, besides that none of this ever develops into something concrete, except some ungainly historic subtext. Planetarium proves to be spectral in additional methods than one.
An enormous a part of the issue is how determinedly obscure every little thing is. Portman (who performs a lot of the movie in what appears like fairly fluent French) is 36 years outdated; Depp (daughter of Johnny, with whom she was beforehand seen in Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers) is 18. It’s not strictly crucial for the movie to elucidate the age distinction, however Laura and Kate usually appear extra like mom and daughter than sisters, including an unintended word of ambiguity that distracts from the intentional selection. Depp’s efficiency because the medium can solely be described as noncommittal—even after almost two hours, it’s arduous to say whether or not Kate feels blessed or cursed by the trail her life has taken, or whether or not she feels a lot of something in any respect. Planetarium appears invested primarily in drawing blunt parallels between cinema, spiritualism, and sure characters’ studied indifference to the specter of struggle in Europe, particularly for Jews and foreigners. However this theme, whereas potent, stays unusually indifferent from the occasions which can be designed as an example it.
Each the movie’s writer-director, Rebecca Zlotowski, and its co-screenwriter, Robin Campillo, have wrestled with this difficulty earlier than. Followers of the French TV sequence The Returned would seemingly be bewildered by its direct inspiration, Campillo’s 2004 movie They Got here Again, which has precisely the identical premise (the lifeless in a small city return to life, not precisely as zombies) however stays frustratingly blasé about it. (Then again, Campillo’s Jap Boys may scarcely be extra direct, and his newest movie as director, 120 Beats Per Minute, received the Grand Prix at Cannes final Could.) And there’s a motive why Zlotowski’s two earlier options, the woolly Expensive Prudence (2010) and Grand Central (2013), by no means bought U.S. releases. Her formal strategy right here, which mixes a wide-screen facet ratio with suffocating close-ups, appears equally confused, as if she’s simply making an attempt issues at random with out pondering them via. The result’s a maddening jumble of impulses perpetually searching for a satisfying entire.