Christophe Honoré is considered by many as the true heir of the French New Wave – maybe because he started as a film critic at Cahiers du Cinéma, or maybe because he is not afraid of being seen as “arty” or “pretentious”. After the success of Love Songs (2007) and, most recently, Ma Mère (2012, with Isabelle Huppert and Louis Garrel),Honoré takes on the task of adapting for the screen one of the most influential books of Western Civilization: Metamorphoses, by Roman poet Ovid. Released in 2014 in France, it is only this year making its way to English-speaking territories.
Europa (Amira Akili, of North African descent) is a teenager who follows attractive truck driver Jupiter (Sebastien Hirel), only to be conquered and kidnapped by him. Charmed by his many stories about gods and humans, as well as about his many infidelities towards his wife Juno, Europa follows him throughout a modern fantasy land, meeting Bacchus, Mercury and Orpheus, while around her people become animals and reality becomes tales.
Reminiscent of Pasolini’s own literary adaptations, Metamorphoses is brimming with nudity (mostly male, full frontal), water themes, and a beautiful cinematography courtesy of Andre Chemetoff (The Beach; The Ninth Gate). Honoré plays it to the metaphor rather than the fantasy element – all transformations happen off camera, suggested by simple edits, evoking symbols instead of trying to wow us with gratuitous CGI. As the non-professional actors look the more effective on their silent looks and glances, true tableaux permeate the screen: Juno throwing eyeballs to the skies, creating galaxies; Orpheus rescuing Eurydice on an incredibly poetic underwater scene; and Narcissus’s death. As the soundtrack blares classical music, with a few indie songs thrown into it, Metamorphoses is a fever induced dream, where the reality of contemporary France and mythological themes freely intertwine.
As a whole, Metamorphoses can easily be compared to Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution, as the strength of the images surpass the plot. That’s not to say the plot is weak; Honoré did a great job on his adaptation, which remains mostly faithful to the original. Though its first part – when Europa and Jupiter have their affair – is definitely the strongest, there’s still much to be enjoyed throughout the rest of the film. A quiet, discreet object- even considering the possible political messages of its casting choices – Metamorphoses is best enjoyed when on the mood for allegories, watching couples frolic on the wild, and stories of gods that are just too human.
Metamorphoses will be released on the UK on 22nd August 2017, as part of the Picturehouse Discovery Tuesdays. For more information, please check https://www.metamorphosesfilm.com