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Metamorphoses: Honore Does Ovid
ancient Greeks told shape-shifting stories millennia before Kafka and dozens of
tawdry paranormal romance writers, but it was the Roman poet Ovid who really
crystallized the theme. As France becomes increasingly multicultural (and
Mediterranean), why shouldn’t the Greco-Roman gods reassert themselves, like
Apollo in Star Trek? Christophe Honoré
modernizes Ovid’s epic poem, envisioning the Olympians living in the grubby
Parisian suburbs, just as randy and petty as they ever were in Metamorphoses (trailer here), which opens this
Thursday in Brooklyn.
is the daughter of immigrants living in the projects, but she is still a
princess to Jupiter, a morally degenerate but roguishly charming truck driving.
He makes no bones about abducting her and she is happy to go along for the
ride. Of course, they will have to avoid his jealous wife Juno, especially when
he explains what she did to Io, another princess who was unfortunately caught
in a compromising position with Jupiter.
the course of several days, Europa will fall under and out of Jupiter’s spell,
hear a bounty of stories, spend time with Bacchus, and get swept up in King
Cadmus’s personality cult. Some vignettes are stronger than others, but their
net effect compounds with each re-told myth. Frankly, it is eerily logical how aptly
these tales of arbitrary cruelty and self-absorbed vanity fit in our current
day and age.
the two highlights depict the Juno’s blinding of the future oracle Tiresias
(memorably played by Rachid O.) and the ill-fated romance of Atalanta and
Hippomenes, initially fueled and then sabotaged by the goddess Venus. For extra
bonus points, Honoré stages the scene of their supernaturally overheated
love-making session on the floor of a store-front mosque, so stand by for the
professional outrage police.
Jupiter, Sébastien Hirel manages to be sinister (in a Joyce Carol Oates kind of
way), but also displays the shortsighted immaturity of a man-child. That might
sound rather unappealing, but it is a neat trick to pull off, rather in keeping
with the mythological source material. Mélodie Richard plays Juno like a nag
from Hades, again in keeping with Ovid, Edith Hamilton, and Rick Riordan. Amira
Akili perfectly serves as a somewhat naïve audience surrogate, but frankly she
looks disturbingly young for her sex scenes with Jupiter. On the other hand,
Gabrielle Chuiton and Jean Courte lend the film a shot of poignant dignity as
the proto-Christian Samaritans, Philemon and Baucis.
Despite, or maybe because of its messiness, Metamorphoses might be Honoré’s best
film to date. Shrewdly, he avoids pedantic one-for-one parallels, striving to
transpose the spirit of Ovid’s myths, more than the letter. He also keeps the
physical transformations discretely off-camera, which actually heightens the
sense of mystery. When it works, it works. Recommended for literate viewers, Metamorphoses screens five nights at the
Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, starting this Thursday (3/23) and opens a
week-long run at the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles this Friday (3/24).
Labels: Christophe Honore, French Cinema