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A Continental art house film so stereotypically pretentious it is almost self-parody.
ARTICLE INFOLuminal is another name for the barbiturate sodium thiopental and Luminal is a film about drugs. There's not really much more to it than that. Although it is set in 2010 it is no more sf than Martin Amis's London Fields, its only concessions to the year being some well judged design touches. Despite being described by its creators as a "futuristic urban dystopia" it could easily be set in contemporary Europe.
film by Andrea Vecchiato
rated 4.0/10 by 1 person
Based on two novels by Italian author Isabella Santacroce, Devi (Maria Papas) and Demon (Jemeela Mustchin) are eighteen-year-old prostitutes living, working and playing in Paris. These three activities tend to shade into one another thanks to their constant drug use and the fact they work in an exclusive nightclub. This existence is interrupted when another girl dies during an auto-asphyxiation sex game. This leads Demon to brutally assault the club owner, their trollish pimp Ryu (Denis Lavant). Fleeing Paris they easily find new lives in the art wank, style cunt strata of London.
All this suggests that the film has rather more narrative than is in fact the case. It follows the inescapable drugs logic that what goes up must come down but this takes place in the first half hour after which we are treated to a plateau of degradation. The film becomes a road movie stuck in an Ourobouros-like loop, a circular lurch through the night side of the cities of Europe. Rather than narrative there is an expression of mood or, at best, an exercise in the shallowest philosophy imaginable. We are presented with a squalid form of hedonism where sensuality is elevated to a virtue above all others. It is in this context that when the pair's sometime travelling companion, rentboy Damien (Thomas Orange), asks whether the relationship they share is love he receives the answer no, "this is more than love." It's a grotesque lie and it is no coincidence that any attempt at portraying humanity is leaden.
Purely as an exercise in sound and vision the film is a resounding success. The beautiful and very clever costumes and design are enhanced by the various post-production techniques (discounting an intrusive rewind effect) and the totality is well-married to Michael Nyman's score. While you can be impressed by the stylistic intent and execution you are simultaneously appalled by its callowness; its pretension masquerading as insight; its characters wading neck deep in a sewer, oblivious to the corpses and excrement surrounding them. Darren Aronofsky's study of addiction, Requiem For A Dream (2000), made similar brilliant use of sound, light and technique but that film was wedded to a bleak and remorseless narrative that had a sense of authority. In comparison Luminal feels like a distasteful dressing up game.
It is the mantra of the film that "we have not seen the light of day for two years" which makes the climax of the film inevitable but no less visually compelling. However cinematography cannot stand in for character development. As the blue sky of morning burns out through the screen it signals release for the viewer but we never believe Devi and Demon have transcended and escaped their purgatory.
This review originally appeared in Matrix #166