Jupiter’s Moon, 2017.
Directed by Kornel Mundruczo.
Starring Merab Ninidze, Zsombor Jeger, and Gyorgy Cserhalmi.
A group of Syrian refugees arrive at the Hungarian border but are shot at by the military. Of those that escape onto dry land, some are killed while others are captured and sent to a container camp. One of them is shot and is taken to a second camp, where a cynical doctor discovers he can levitate and sees it as an opportunity to make money.
Hungary’s policy on refugees caused outrage in the first half of last year, when it passed a law that essentially forbade refugees to gain access to the country, housing them instead in container camps and incurring the wrath of the European community. Kornel Mundruczo doesn’t just use this as the backdrop for Jupiter’s Moon, he amplifies it by explaining that the planet Jupiter has 67 moons, one of which may be able to support life in a form that we would recognise. That moon is called Europa.
His follow up to social satire White God (2014) is hugely ambitious – a supernatural thriller, a chase movie, a religious allegory and political commentary all rolled into one. It’s a big ask and his story of one Syrian refugee and his ability to levitate comes close to pulling it off. Ayan (Zsombor Jeger) acquires his unusual talent after being shot as he attempts to get over the border into Hungary – that’s about the sum total of the explanation – and falls into the hands of devoutly atheist Doctor Stern (Merab Ninidze, currently also in BBC1’s McMafia) who see him as a way to make money. What he doesn’t expect is that the young man is also his route to discovering something in the way of a soul.
The film’s set pieces – prolonged aerial sequences, and one car chase through the streets of Budapest in particular – are exhilarating, all the more so for having been shot in one take. The pursuit of the refugees in the early minutes is another and also points to its inspiration. The speed, the single take and the colour palette take you straight to Alfonso Cuaron’s Children Of Men: admittedly, this isn’t in the same post-dystopian setting but, apart from that, the resemblance is unavoidable. The chase element never lets up, initially with Ayan being pursued by Doctor Stern: he’s none too sure about the older man and keeps escaping. And behind them both, chasing them individually or as a pair, is the dogged cop Lazlo (Gyorgy Cserhalmi): unkempt and looking in desperate need of a night’s sleep at the very least – he ignores orders to take a rest – he’s hell bent on getting his man. Or men.
The religious allegory, with Ayan presented as a messiah like figure, is a little too heavy handed: ordinary people in their cars are transfixed by “the angel” floating overhead, his wounds still bleed in their own way, Stern uses him to apparently perform miracle cures. This Hungary is a place in sore need of redemption as nothing seems to happen unless the wheels are oiled by the folding stuff. Lots of it. Everything and everybody has their price in this world and nobody bats an eyelid about it. But the political theme is never fully developed, ending up as another backdrop and little else.
While what are meant to be the thought-provoking aspects of the film don’t hold always water, the set pieces and the performances – Cserhalmi’s Lazlo in particular – are all compelling. And there are moments, especially when Ayan somersaults and dives above the city, which are nothing short of beautiful. Jupiter’s Moon may have its shortcomings, but it also has more than enough to keep you gripped.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.