Alien Crystal Palace


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Alien Crystal Palace
"This is a mess. An ambitious mess...but mess nonetheless." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

So. There's like, this myth, as told by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium, that humans were once complete beings. But they were sliced into two and condemned to wander for all eternity in search of their missing half.

Yet what is this? A wise man, by the unlikely name of Hambourg (Michel Fau), described variously as a 'manipulator of souls' and a 'font of all that is esoteric' is on a mission to recreate the ideal couple, the 'androgyne'....a man and a woman come together as one, once more.

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And behold, he has found new subjects to undergo this transformation: underground film-maker Dolorès Rivers (Arielle Dombasle), and her mirror image, abrasive rock star Nicolas Atlante (Nicolas Ker).

What could possibly go wrong?

Need you ask? Alien Crystal Palace, which is screening at this year's Fantasia international Film Festival, goes careening off the rails in the very first minutes, with a portentous, lightning strewn voice-over which may or may not be the voice of God, regretting that things haven't quite worked out the way they are meant to. Again.

Then it is off to debauchery central, where Hambourg and a bevy of Egyptian-ish acolytes plot amongst themselves. Plotting is clearly hot work, as several of those involved have felt it necessary to remove most of their clothes. Apart from the ones dressed in gold masks and robes. Or the ones with a penchant for shiny shiny!

Which seems to be a sub-obsession of director Arielle Dombasle, as here and there throughout the film characters turn up for no apparent reason in latex, lycra, spandex. Look. So long as it hugs the figure and is shiny it's OK. OK?

As for the police! We'll get back to them later....

Hambourg's plot appears to have been hatched on board a submarine, or at least on board stock footage of a submarine ploughing majestically through the Atlantic waves. Why? Who knows. Any more than there is rhyme or reason to the subsequent plot.

Dolorès is making a film. Her film acts out some half-remembered aspects of her childhood just before her mother disappeared and maybe turned up dead - or in a coma – in a crystal coffin aboard the aforementioned submarine.

That's almost clever: Arielle, the actor,starring in a film directed by Arielle, in which she plays Dolorès, the director, directing Dolorès the actor playing a role based loosely on her own childhood. Is it me or are the Russian Dolls starting to crowd the place out? And Nicolas is hired through the machinations of Hambourg what? It is never quite clear what Nicolas is doing, other than drinking and swearing and having sex with pretty much any woman on set. Except Dolorès.

For whatever mystical reunion is supposed to take place will happen when, eventually, Nicolas and Dolorès fall romantically – or maybe lustfully – into one another's arms and, yanno, it. Problem is, although there seems to be some sort of attraction between the two of them, whenever they are together one or other comes up with an excuse for not doing it. And when they are not together, they are both at it hammer and tongs with the rest of the cast.

Cue loads of sweaty sex. Some very odd henchmen of Hambourg's, who seal a mutual pact with a snort of shared white powder. The God Horus (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who pops up from time to time to issue gnomic Egyptian-style comment. A pyramid. (Stock footage again?). Plus Egyptian cat imagery: the Bastets! And the police.

Ah yes. Because almost without exception, sleeping with Nicolas or Dolorès is followed shortly after by the death of the sleepee. The list of illustrious corpses includes Lauriane (Joséphine de La Baume) but not Nicolas' partner Sybille (Asia Argento). Why? Who is killing them? Neither is ever entirely clear. But the growing body count leads to the arrival of a Police Inspector (Theo Hakola) accompanied by a posse of police kitted out in latex shirts and police hats with flashing lights atop.

This is a mess. An ambitious mess...but mess nonetheless. In one way it is reminiscent of John Waters' A Dirty Shame. whose plot revolved around the search for the ultimate sex act: but that at least had the saving grace of being a comedy and starring Tracey Ullman.

Here there are occasional unintended laughs, often the result of odd subtitling. Hambourg, for instance, declares at one point “I shall go out and oxidise myself”. Later on, one character talks of literal sacrifice taking place "at the hotel." Not, I wondered, "on the altar"? “Autel” in French: it sounds just like “hotel” and fits rather better!

But then, the film owes much to the presence and the influence of grande dame of the French cultural scene, Arielle Dombasle who despite being 66 still, according to one French source “fait la petite fille”. Local views of her accomplishments are, to put it mildly, 'mixed'.

“I can't stand it any more,” cries Nicolas. A response to Hambourg's revelation that it is “all about fucking....fucking for all eternity”? Or perhaps he has just seen the advance reviews.

As raunchy rock video, Alien Crystal Palace works well. Too bad they decided to make a 90 minute film out of it!

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2019
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Alien Crystal Palace packshot
A crazy scientist is on a quest to create a new, immaculate, androgynous being.

Director: Arielle Dombasle

Writer: Florian Bernas, Arielle Dombasle

Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Asia Argento, Arielle Dombasle, Nicolas Ker, Michel Fau

Year: 2018

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: France


Fantasia 2019

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