Film Review: Jupiter’s Moon

In association with the GFT

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Jupiter’s Moon, writer/director Kornél Mundruczó’s follow-up to Cannes Un Certain Regard award-winner White God, centres on the arresting image of a young Syrian refugee (Zsombor Jéger) spiralling gently above the terrestrial landscape of the film’s Hungarian setting. As the film’s title alludes, and its opening text explains, the discovery of Jupiter’s Moon Europa brought with it the promise of new life beneath its hostile exterior. While Jupiter’s Moon does little to develop this comparison, the film begins with a number of hushed individuals each seeking to make good upon a similar promise, as protagonist Aryan Dashni and his father Muraad attempt to make their way illegally into Europe in the back of a crowded lorry, and establish a new life within its unsympathetic social landscape.

The film opens with a close-up of a caged chicken, the camera slowly exploring the cramped space of the lorry’s interior, drawing clear contrasts and parallels between its animal and human cargo. What follows is a frantic, masterfully-shot pursuit across land and water as Hungarian authorities chase, assault and kill the fleeing refugees. The sequence ends with Aryan’s unconscious body rotating upwards through the air, having been shot in an act of alleged self-defence, before plummeting back to Earth – a lasting image brimming with emotional weight and thematic potential.

It’s a shame then that, from this assured opening, Mundruczó’s film seems increasingly uncertain exactly how to harness this potential. Aryan’s mere existence poses umpteen humanitarian, political and religious quandaries: What use are artificial land borders to the man who can fly? What happens when a socially worthless individual is suddenly assigned immeasurable value? How would today’s Europe react to the second coming of the messiah (Aryan is, after all, revealed to be the son of a carpenter) and a devout Muslim one at that? And while Mundruczó’s film has a crack at each in turn, it never seems to grasp the answers it seeks.

The film is at its best when Aryan is airborne, freed from the more grounded concerns Mundruczó weaves below. These scenes are thrilling, vertiginous, and visually stunning, and build upon Aryan’s character in ways Mundruczó’s script otherwise fails to. Yet Aryan’s plight is frequently pushed from focus by a that of a Hungarian doctor (Merab Ninidze) and his gradual return to faith. While this interwoven journey is effectively and emotionally told, the film it increasingly reduces the crucial struggle of Aryan and the film’s other refugees to a mere conduit for its its religious self-searching – and a hovering distraction from the pavement gaze of the Hungarian populous – and concludes messily with a botched terrorist attack and a confused hotel shootout. From its its strong beginnings Jupiter’s Moon therefore therefore ends clumsily, leaving Mundruczó’s film a beautiful yet internally conflicted piece, posing better questions than answers.

[Ronan Duff – @Ronan_Duff]

This film will screen at the GFT until the 11th of January, tickets are available here.

The GFT also offers a free 15-25 discount card for students, available here.

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