Blood Machines


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Blood Machines
"Narratively slight but stylistically lush."

With a plot that is not so much a line as a smear, Blood Machines is less a science fiction story, more a story about science fiction, or about a particular conflict within it – where the hypermasculine dramatics of the likes of Piers Anthony and Alan Dean Foster run straight into the cool anger of James Tiptree Jr and the strangeness of Ursula K LeGuin, with a dash of Frank Herbert style hallucinogens thrown in for good measure. It is at once a sprawling mess of a film and an evocative piece of genre art which might work as well as a video installation as it does in the cinema.

We begin in what seems to be an interstellar salvage vehicle operated by Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen) and Lago (Christian Erickson), who, operating on what seem to be military orders, pursue a damaged craft onto a planet’s surface. There’s a flavour of Iain M Banks’ culture novels as it emerges that the craft’s mind is trying to free itself, but with a heavily sexual slant, as it takes the form of a naked young woman who is trying to crawl to safety when the men catch up with her. Vascan doesn’t understand the larger situation but knows what to do with a woman, or thinks he does, bringing out the big guns to see off her protectors and then dragging her back to his ship, intending to have a little fun with her later. His ship’s own embedded female slave mind looks as if she’s been through enough of that already, to the point where he’s now complaining that she isn’t desirable any more. But the new mind has ideas of her own and, for all her newborn naivety, a good sense of how to deal with the likes of Vascan.

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Directors Raphaël Hernandez and Savitri Joly-Gonfard, who turned the stardom that came from making a viral music video for Carpenter Brut’s Turbo Killer into a fresh opportunity to create artificial landscapes, this time on a much bigger budget, are less concerned with story or even theme than with the visual majesty of their new universe, delivering something that is narratively slight but stylistically lush. It’s a film that suffices well enough for sober viewing but might be enjoyed more with chemical help. The shades of green and lemon yellow which colour the scavengers’ familiar world do battle with feminine red, pink, purple and orange, swirling, frequently liberated from shape. There are extensive references to the work of HR Giger but the tone is different. By stepping out of the familiar shadows, Hernandez and Joly-Gonfard present us with something that actually feels more alien.

If you’re looking for straightforward action and drama, this won’t be for you. If your interests lie more in the direction of contemporary dance and visual experimentation, but you have at least a basic grounding in science fiction, you’ll find it a lot more rewarding. Although only 50 minutes long it stretches its ideas thin in places and it could do with an editor to rein it in and stop it getting overindulgent, but it’s pleasingly different from most of what makes it into cinemas and it’s well worth catching on a big screen.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2020
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Blood Machines packshot
Two space hunters are tracking down a machine trying to free itself. After taking it down, they witness a mystical phenomenon: the ghost of a young woman pulls itself out of the machine, as if the spaceship had a soul.
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Director: Raphaël Hernandez, Savitri Joly-Gonfard

Writer: Raphaël Hernandez, Savitri Joly-Gonfard

Starring: Elisa Lasowski, Noémie Stevens, Joëlle Berckmans, Anders Heinrichsen

Year: 2019

Runtime: 50 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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