UK Release Date: 22nd August 2017
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: Christophe Honoré
Writer: Christophe Honoré
Starring: Amira Akili, Sébastien Hirel, Mélodie Richard, Damien Chapelle, George Babluani
Synopsis: A series of fantasy tales are told to a young woman as she learns about love and life from a family of dysfunctional and bizarre gods.
It has been a great year for French films, with the deeply intriguing double bill of Elle and Raw both making a real impact on these shores when they were released into cinemas. Unfortunately, that trend has come to a rather miserable end with Métamorphoses, which is a baffling, pretentious anthology of fantasy tales. It’s a nonsensical film that’s far more focused on endless nudity and lingering shots of leaves than it is on crafting a story that makes narrative or thematic sense. Director Christophe Honoré has made something that’s admittedly handsome, but also almost entirely empty.
Europe (Amira Akili) is a lonely and disaffected young woman, who finds some semblance of direction when she falls into the arms of handsome young man Jupiter (Sébastien Hirel). He claims to be the king of the gods and tells Europe a series of stories about love and reincarnation. She soon leaves Jupiter behind to spend time with his relatives – Bacchus (Damien Chapelle) and Orphée (George Babluani). Each of the gods tells Europe stories to illuminate her ideas around life, while dealing with existential questions and issues of what it means to be alive. Also, people turn into animals and plants seemingly at random.
Right from the very start, Métamorphoses is a frustrating movie to watch. It’s an opening that seems to unfold in a series of static tableaux, designed to establish the film’s mood and its ideas of oneness with nature. Honorés’s camera finds a real beauty in the lush greens of the countryside in which it is set, but the same beauty does not apply to the storytelling, which is haphazard, episodic and deliberately incoherent. This is a movie about story fragments, but it’s in desperate need of something to unify the events and give the audience something to hang on to as they are guided through the tale.
Everything about the film is pretentious and irritating. It’s an adaptation of Roman poet Ovid’s epic poem of the same name and has exactly the level of chaos you’d expect from an attempt to distill such an epic down to a movie that runs for less than two hours. Each of the stories exists barely long enough to provide a flash of their meaning. Speaking of flashes, Métamorphoses is a film that simply loves nudity. Not every character in the film gets a line of dialogue, but pretty much every single one of the immensely attractive non-professional actors gets their chance to appear naked. While I’m sure there’s a higher meaning to this, it doesn’t come across on screen.
There’s a bright spot in the shape of Amira Akili’s interesting central performance, but she’s given a concerning lack of depth by the ill-disciplined script. In the right hands, her performance could have provided the audience with their hook, but Métamorphoses is unconcerned with creating that sense of logic. It’s instead willing to simply toss characters in and out of the story at random – usually just about long enough for them to take their clothes off and roll around in the grass with someone equally attractive.
Somewhere lurking within the rather tedious exterior of this film, there is almost certainly an intriguing meditation on love and life. Unfortunately, Métamorphoses is far more interested in appearing arty and dreamlike, which is a style that proves to be considerably less effective than the film seems to think. Raw, naturalistic performances are buried in a barrage of cheap sex scenes and philosophical languors that never seem to serve any purpose.
Pop or Poop?
There is almost certainly a selection of compelling ideas at the heart of what Christophe Honoré is doing with Métamorphoses. However, those ideas are completely consumed and buried by a film that is so oppressive and annoying in its arthouse pretensions that it is truly exhausting to watch.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.