Naming your movie after one of the most influential films of all time is a bold move to be sure, and Joaquin Cambre does just that with his bizarre, occasionally brilliant coming-of-age tale set in Argentina. Before beginning, I think it’s important to note that there were considerable issues with the subtitling during the screening of the movie, which at times appeared to rob scenes of their emotional context.
Ángelo Mutti stars as Tomas, a troubled young adolescent who’s obsessed with the moon. After spotting local girl Iris (Ángela Torres) in his telescope, he begins an odyssey in which he stops taking his medication and starts preparing for a trip through space to reach his favourite stellar object. Weird, I know, but it’s a conceit that never feels too forced. To the contrary, it’s a voyage that’s alternately familiar and strange, and one that’s likely to prove divisive in the way it tackles the issues being discussed.
During a Q&A after the screening, Cambre stated his film ‘has a quiet part, and it has a crazy part’. The first half/two thirds of A Trip to the Moon are nothing special. It’s not that they aren’t presented well (a rooftop party sequence is a particular highlight), or that they lack emotional context (in fact, even this preamble is considerably darker fodder than most coming-of-age features manage to craft in their entire runtime) – it’s just that it’s all a little too standard to make an impact on the audience. Pastel-colours, Wes Anderson framing, and quirky dialogue: we’ve seen it all before – even down to the vintage obsession with space-age promotional material. That kind of schtick has never run true – but for the last decade at least, it also hasn’t felt in any way unique.
an odd atmosphere that feels a little miscalculated
Thank god, therefore, that the final act has the guts to push things in another direction. Depending on how you look at it, the change is jarring and insensitive; or powerful and authentic (if a little random) – but it’s undoubtedly a welcome piece of visual reinvention for the film as a whole – and a marker that the focus of Cambre’s tale is being sharply altered. The act takes place inside a reconstruction of a lunar lander, proving to be both the perfect encapsulation of the themes of the tale so far, the literal realisation of the title, and also a few peculiar touches that refuse to chime with what we’ve seen so far. But the flashes of melodrama and true darkness are shrugged off as if they’re trivialities – resulting in an odd atmosphere that feels a little miscalculated.
Altogether, it’s a film that rises above standard coming-of-age quirkiness, and reaches a level of magical-realist cinematic invention that’s consistently surprising and revealing. However, the way in which Cambre flips the tone between gentle melancholy, to suicidal, to murderous at will, and the choices he makes to conclude the movie, may leave the audience deeply confused about how they were supposed to react, and lacks the impact suggested by the action onscreen.
‘A Trip to the Moon’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.
Image: Raindance 2017