Lux Æterna

To be burned at the stake is fame, recognition, notoriety, a fate reserved for those chosen by God such as Joan of Arc or the disciples of Satan, the witches hunted across Europe in the Middle Ages, often women who were seen as a challenge to patriarchal authority and the church, harbouring generation knowledge of herbal medicine, healing and childbirth.

Filmmaking can be a challenge, a collaborative process of compromise and sacrifice in the name of art, but all is not well on the set of God’s Craft, the director of photography feuding with star Béatrice and begging to have her removed from the project prompting the producer to assign a photographer to follow her in hopes of capturing an indiscretion, her co-star Charlotte harassed by hangers-on who should not be on the closed set and the supporting cast allowed no privacy in their dressing rooms.

Opening with footage from two classic films of witchcraft whose themes it incorporates into its loose narrative, Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan of 1922, also known as The Witches or Witchcraft Through the Ages, and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vredens dag (Day of Wrath) of 1943, writer/director’s Gaspar Noé’s Lux Æterna was premiered in Cannes in the summer of 2019, paralleling the persecution of witches with the treatment of women in the film industry.

Starring Betty Blue‘s Béatrice Dalle and The Science of Sleep‘s Charlotte Gainsbourg as fictionalised versions of themselves, what should be a part of the artistic process is devolving into a nightmare told in split screen as battles rage behind the scenes before they are ordered onto a poorly prepared and hostile set, paraded for the masses as though the execution scene were real.

A difficult film to process with two flows of overlapping and contradictory information, of egos and panic attacks and tantrums and distraught women pleading to be heard, Lux Æterna is a powerful but mercifully short film, the final scenes descending into sensory overload as the trio of women tied to stakes suffer their inevitable fate while Béatrice begs for someone to intercede on their behalf only to be shouted down.

Released on Blu-ray by Arrow, the new edition of Lux Æterna features a commentary by Noé and Dalle, their levity perhaps helping them through the grim task, another by writer Kat Ellinger and a video essay by critic Miranda Corcoran which places the film in the context of French extreme cinema, the viewers complicit participants rather than observers of “an exploitation film about exploitation,” as well as on-set photography by Béatrice’s “stalker” Tony Kan and the 1966 experimental short film which inspired the final scenes of the feature, The Flicker.

Lux Æterna is available on Blu-ray from Arrow films now



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