News from Planet Mars is an uplifting, bracingly absurd take on the everyday struggles of a middle-aged father. With adept performances, visual nous and a funny script with plenty of bite, Dominik Moll’s fifth feature was a fine way to conclude this year’s Raindance festival.
Philippe Mars (François Damiens) is a divorced 49 year-old Parisian parent, splitting his time between a stifling office job in computing, and the bringing up of his two slightly precocious children. When Jérôme (a brilliant Vicent Macaigne), his strange, dysfunctional workmate, cuts his ear off with a meat cleaver, Philippe surprises everyone, including himself, by agreeing to let his attacker stay in his flat, having escaped from a mental hospital. The plot from there only grows more farcical, culminating in an industrial sabotage plot and a cross-country chase of sorts.
“adept performances, visual nous and a funny script with plenty of bite”
While not a straight comedy, News from Planet Mars does provide a lot of laughs. Black humour and pervasive cynicism are leavened by an only partially ironic sense of magical whimsy. The repeated, heavenly appearances of Philippe’s dead parents adds a surprise flavour of It’s a Wonderful Life, and the film ends on a definitely hopeful note.
The film is yet not picked up for distribution in the UK – a crying shame, because for all its underlying darkness, and surreal flourishes, News from Planet Mars is a bona fide crowd-pleaser. Presenting its characters and ideas with intelligence and humour, Moll’s film is sharp and unique, finding surprise and invention within urban ennui.
Image: Dominik Moll