Kornél Mundruczó: Jupiter’s Moon / Cannes Film Festival 2017

A refugee hovering as a superhero-angel is the symbolic centre of Kornél Mundruczó’s film competing in Cannes, a grand opus stating the naivety and superfluity of miracles. REVIEW BY ZSOLT GYENGE.

Kornél Mundruczó presents an environment of such post-apocalyptic ambience that it probably is really only a hair’s breadth away from the Hungary we live in. The border patrols hunting for migrants furtively crossing the river, the refugee camps resembling those found in war zones, shabby hospitals and the world of mistrusting, unscrupulous, aggressive but above all constantly disgruntled people are all unfortunately within arm’s reach.

The title, Jupiter’s Moon, as it is a little over-explained in the text preceding the film, refers to Europa, a celestial body that could theoretically harbour life – but in the bitter vision of Mundruczó neither this moon, nor our Europe here is what they seem from a distance.

Although this setting is prevalent throughout the film, the director’s focus is elsewhere, namely on two individual, internal development stories. The issue centred on the search for God is really inspired by Bergman, even though the appearance, the implementation and the visual language of this film cannot be further from those of the Swedish master. One of the main characters, a policeman chasing migrants, wants evidence supporting the existence of miracles. The doctor living off refugees’ bribes has already encountered one, so he should accept the magnificent, or even divine quality of the miracle as opposed to taking advantage of it for questionable ends.

Mundruczó – mostly resembling Iñárritu coquetting with metaphysics – constructs a superhero movie of sorts, as the young Syrian boy (Zsombor Jéger) shot in the beginning of the film does not die, but much to his own surprise discovers that he can float (as an angel?) then fly. While looking for his father during the night-time escape through the river, he bumps into Gábor Stern, a doctor played splendidly by the Georgian actor, Merab Ninidze. From this point on, however, he is unable to steer his own fate, he drifts almost helplessly, whereby the author points out the main features of miracles, their naivety and aimlessness.

Set against this internal process, the backdrops and society of today’s Hungary “smitten” with migration is more like a scenery or a pretext to depict a milieu that is indeed ripe for redemption and miracles. We feel that these bitter, withdrawn, corruptible people have created an unviable world for themselves with their own hands. And this is the moment to mention the political statement of the film, one that will be the centre of discussion about Jupiter’s Moon in the coming weeks or months. At about two-thirds of the film a twist that cannot be disclosed here takes Mundruczó to very uncertain waters regarding the political message on the peril of immigration – just like the ones we have alluded to in connection with the controversial ending of the White God that in spite of everything that preceded it professed the superiority and the rule of Man. In my opinion therefore, Mundruczó deliberately creates tense, problematic situations that do not integrate seamlessly into the liberal intelligentsia’s tolerant discourse based on openness. With that tool he forces us to leave our mental comfort zones, but one must wonder whether he reckons with fuelling certain extremist views by offering such an approach for public debate. The mild booing that took me by surprise at the end of the Cannes press screening can possibly be ascribed to that.

It is, however, impossible to say anything about Jupiter’s Moon without mentioning the visuals that at multiple times create literally breath-taking, chilling and stunning moments. The cinematographer Marcell Rév created a world of images providing an unforgettable experience with its palpable, almost throbbing presence, its dynamics and power realized in the visuals of the action scenes, the stupefying camera movements prompting the physical, almost visceral involvement of the viewer and the composition that continuously challenges the spatial concepts of up and down, while relentlessly contrasting extremely deep and utterly flat sceneries. A special mention is due to how perfectly interweaved all this is with the director’s work, the best example being the admirable choreography of the mass scenes in which the people and the camera keep on avoiding and finding one another. Moreover the idea and the set of the rotating apartment reused from the theatre piece Imitation of Life is laudable, especially because the tool that had a sensational effect on stage can be further enhanced by the cinematic language.

Not even the occasionally stumbling, overwritten dialogues (the homophobic bartender, the doctor theorizing on the hotel bed) or the unnecessary scenes that do not add anything to the film (dance contest) can really ruin the experience. Jupiter’s Moon is unquestionably Mundruczó’s greatest work to this date, but beyond the probing of the miracle it is lacking an in-depth, comprehensive and coherent philosophical structure that could link and unify the three layers (social criticism, fantasy and individual enlightenment). Perhaps the message we do get after watching the complex visions of the film is an utterly bitter diagnosis: this world is beyond saving, miracles notwithstanding.
(Translated by Péter Papolczy) 
Szerző: Zsolt Gyenge