THE STORYIn 1930s France, two sisters who are thought to be able to communicate with ghosts meet a visionary producer while performing in Paris.
THE CAST – Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp, Louis Garrel, Emmanuel Salinger, Amira Casar, Pierre Salvadori & Rosa Bursztein
THE TEAM – Rebecca Zlotowski (Director/Writer) & Robin Campillo (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 106 Minutes
By Tommy B.
“Planetarium” is a film about sisters who believe they can exhume the spirits of the deceased. It is thus ironic that the movie cannot wring any life out of its own material. This is an astoundingly boring and misguided swing and a miss from writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski and a work that carries itself with a smugness that can be felt in nearly every frame. “Planetarium” aims for prestige and fantasy set against the backdrop of pre-World War II France, but it falls far short of its ambitions.
Natalie Portman and Lily Rose-Depp star as Laura and Kate, two American sisters living in France in the early 1940s who perform on stage to show off their ghost communication skills. They become acquainted with a film producer (Emmanuel Salinger) who seeks to translate the sisters’ appeal into commercial and artistic gain, though the film makes a mystery out of his motives. The relationship between the sisters and the producer forms the primary narrative thread. “Planetarium,” however, intersperses jumbled chronological pacing and fantastical elements in an apparent effort to disrupt any clear understanding of what is happening. The movie disorients and alienates at every turn, and its hybrid of French and English comes across as a self-conscious stylistic choice, even if the bilingualism is a reasonable detail considering the background and circumstances of the characters.
The badness of “Planetarium” is especially striking given the talent of the people involved. Rebecca Zlotowski’s 2013 film, “Grand Central,” garnered much acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival where she won the François Chalais Prize. Her co-writer for “Planetarium” is Robin Campillo, who wrote and directed this year’s “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” a magnificent and empathetic chronicling of the members of ACT UP Paris in the early 1990s. The excellence that Zlotowski and Campillo have shown in other works, however, is entirely absent here. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning actress who has astonished in wide-ranging movies such as “Black Swan” and “Thor,” gives an overly mannered performance as Laura that highlights her weaknesses as an actress. Portman has proven time and again that she can command the screen, but she suffers in “Planetarium” from the same exaggerated acting that hindered her performance in “Jackie” despite many others being taken with her performance. None of the other actors in “Planetarium” (Lily Rose-Depp, Louis Garrel, Emmanuel Salinger) leave a memorable enough imprint to help pad things out.
“Planetarium” is awful but also fleeting. It leaves no lingering effects, so it is best to forget about this ghost-themed exercise and focus instead on the superior films made by Zlotowski, Campillo, Portman, and company. However, the one scene that does stand out in “Planetarium” features a gorgeous drive through the French countryside, which inspired me to dream of taking a vacation in France, a thought that kept me occupied while my eyes glazed over the screen as the movie ran out the clock. A complete misfire to be sure.
THE GOOD – Some inspired visual moments, including a pleasantly filmed drive through the French countryside.
THE BAD – A laughable plot, bizarre execution, and an overall feeling of seriousness that does not match the silliness of the film.
THE OSCARS – None
THE FINAL SCORE – 2/10