is like Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen,
but with more National Socialists. Life had never been as uncertain as it was at
the climax of WWII, during the post-Heisenberg Principle, post-Schrödinger’s
Cat era. For theoretical physicists engaged in espionage, the more they know,
the scarier and less predictable the world looks. Quantum mechanics becomes a
deadly game in Quebecois filmmaker Olivier Asselin’s The Cyclotron (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Whistler Film Festival.
Franco-German Simone Ziegler was once a colleague of Emil Scherrer and very
nearly his lover, but now she works for the resistance. She is to make contact
with the physicist on a train bound for Paris to assess how close he is to
realizing an atomic weapon—and most likely liquidate him based on his response.
However, she unilaterally changes her mission parameters when she learns the rogue
Scherrer wants to defect. He has indeed completed an atomic weapon—a cyclotron—but
on a much smaller scale than the Manhattan Project’s A-bomb.
the Gestapo has the drop on Scherrer and they are also pretty sure Ziegler’s
cover story is bogus. The Germans will interrogate them both with the help of
collaborating scientist Helmut König, but Scherrer is not talking and Ziegler
says just enough to create a sense of uncertainty, so to speak.
Le Cyclotron easily represents
the cleverest cinematic use of Schrödinger’s Cat since Ward Byrkit’s Coherence. It is hard to explain outside
of the film, but it is completely convincing in the cinematic moment, which
sounds aptly Heisenbergian. There are also wickedly smart nods towards
relativity and time travel, yet it still functions as an effective espionage thriller,
which happens to be primarily set on a train, for extra genre bonus points.
Laverdière’s mostly black-and-white cinematography (with select passages
rendered in color for effect) is strikingly stylish, in an appropriately noir
kind of way. As a result, in terms of its tone and visual vocabulary, Cyclotron is more closely akin to films
like Kawalerowicz’s Night Train and
the rotoscoped Alois Nebel.
Scherrer and Ziegler, Mark Antony Krupa and co-screenwriter Lucille Fluet do
not look like typical blow-dried romantic co-leads, but that is rather
refreshing. It also means they more convincingly pass for nuclear physicists. Most
importantly, they forge some compellingly tragic, ambiguously romantic
Admittedly, Asselin has trouble with the ending,
but it is always tricky to stick the dismount when a film has this degree of
difficulty. Regardless, he earns enough credit for his ambition and
inventiveness to compensate. Highly recommended for fans of film noir, science
fiction, and post-modern cinema, Le
Cyclotron screens this Saturday (12/3) and Sunday (12/4) as part of the
Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia.
Labels: Canadian Cinema, Schrodinger's Cat, Whistler '16