Monday, August 03, 2015

Fantasia ’15: Cosmodrama

They still wear turtlenecks in the future. In fact, the retro-1960s fashion and décor are rather reassuring. The passengers on this exploratory vessel will take their comforts where they may. They do not know where they have come from or where they are going, but at least the canteen is fully stocked in Philippe Fernandez’s boldly philosophical Cosmodrama (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

The travelers aboard this generational spaceship have just been awakened from their cryogenic slumber to find they are all suffering from amnesia. They have no idea what they are supposed to be doing, but more or less find their assigned roles through instinct. By far, the Astronomer is the most productive among them. He quickly traces their trajectory and analyzes their apparent destination. To find out where exactly they are headed, he will determine where they have come from, but in this case, he means the point at which life in our universe originated eons ago.

As the Astronomer announces his findings, the Reporter sends them back through space in his dispatches. Everyone seems to acknowledge his research into the very nature of existence should be the focus of their mission, even though the Psysiologist and the Semiologist have had great success teaching a primate to communicate with flashcards. Except for the increasingly erratic Psychologist, everyone settles into their routines fairly smoothly, even when forced to cohabitate with doppelgangers created by time-shifts.

It might take years for Cosmodrama to reach the audience it deserves, but eventually it should be hailed as a classic. Fernandez takes all the familiar science fiction tropes and turns them into a unabashedly cerebral philosophical inquiry. Think of it as the Star Trek episode Umberto Eco and Carl Sagan never collaborated on. It looks just as trippy-groovy as the mildly disappointing Space Station ’76, but it pitches its material at an infinitely higher level. You really need to see it a few times to absorb all the conjecture, but even if it is all gobbledygook, it sounds absolutely convincing.

Yet, there are also very strange psychological dramas percolating below the surface. Despite the lack of conventional genre conflicts, there are real stakes involved, as well as some seriously chewy dialogue. Jackie Berroyer is terrific as the Astronomer (and his double), completely selling some heady speculation. Bernard Blancan also makes a compelling everyman as the Reporter, while Sascha Ley further piles on the braininess as the Biologist. If anyone overplays their hand, it is Emmanuel Moynot doing the Full Monty as the Psychologist.

This is genuinely virtuoso filmmaking in the fullest sense. Eventually, Cosmodrama will be a Criterion Collection title and a mainstay on critics’ lists. It is like all the really inspired scientific bits from the last twenty years of SF film and television seamlessly assembled into a mastercut. Very highly recommended, Cosmodrama is a must-see film when it screens tonight (8/3) and tomorrow (8/4), as part of this year’s Fantasia.