Wednesday 24 May 2023

Cannes 2023 - Club Zero by Jessica Hausner

You never quite know where Austrian director Jessica Hausner will take you next. With an impressive filmography already, with each film she tackles some new themes with some very different stories and even style, from the austere period drama of Amour Fou to the understated science-fiction of Little Joe (Cannes 2019). She is back in Cannes with Club Zero.

Club Zero is quite simply an unidentified filmic object. Not particularly experimental in its form or even structure, more in the way it leaves audiences often baffled and second-guessing what Jessica Hausner is trying to tell us despite what is seemingly a simple story, there is a welcome ambiguity in this age when beliefs have to be proudly and loudly proclaimed and ambiguity has no place. 

The story unfolds within the cloistered world of an exclusive private school, where a group of students under the influence of Miss Novak practices a bizarre form of communal fasting that culminates in the a most extreme form. The director crafts an atmosphere of eerie tranquility that permeates every frame, enhancing the film's mysterious undertones. She deftly uses silence and subtle visuals to build tension, creating an unsettling ambiance that mirrors the cult's peculiar rituals contrasted with a certain mundanity and she balances that tone with flashes of wry humour and a certain nonchalance too. 

This deliberate choice contributes to the film's cryptic nature, inviting viewers to contemplate the deeper meanings behind the story. One of its strengths lies in its refusal to provide easy answers and what Jessica Hausner seems to say goes against the grain of the current social norms about youth which might surprise some. The film is also a visual feast, with the director employing a colour palette and design that purposely evokes a certain kind of opulent European boho chic but with a touch of Scandinavian austerity and her meticulous framing enhance the film's mysterious atmosphere. 

Jessica Hausner avoids easy characterisations, leaving the audience to decipher the motivations and emotions of the individuals involved, among them Miss Novak. With what is her most interesting character and best performance in a long time, Mia Wasikowska creates such an interesting character. Mysterious in her motivations, at times chilling with her steely determination but never descending into a kind of pantomine guru and giving a layer of honesty that makes her all the more confounding.

Enigmatic and fascinating, Club Zero is bound to divide audiences.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Official Selection, in Competition

Club Zero. Directed by Jessica Hausner. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Sidse Babe Knudsen, Elsa Zylberstein...

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