Jupiter’s Moon (Jupiter holdja)
Hungary (2017) Dir. Kornél Mundruczó
Having impressed with his last film, the upsetting social drama of animal abuse and karma White God, Kornél Mundruczó returns with a more fantasy driven look at the grim side of Hungarian life, taking the topical plight of refugees as his leaping off point – and no, that wasn’t an intentional pun either.
Aryan Dashni (Zsombor Jéger) is part of a large group of Syrian refugees crossing the borders of Hungary by boat, when they are caught by the border police. Separated from his father, and having lost his papers and passport, Aryan tries to run but is shot by police detective László (György Cserhalmi). But instead of dying, Aryan somehow develops the power to levitate.
Discovering this phenomenon is Gábor Stern (Merab Ninidze), a former surgeon expelled for making a fatal mistake whilst operating drunk, now working at the refugee camp hospital. Needing money to bribe the family of the deceased boy he operated on to drop their case against him, Stern decides to exploit Aryan’s abilities to help raise this money, but László is after them.
First off, I have to curse a pox on distributor Curzon Artificial Eye for once again failing to subtitle the dialogue spoken in English, the common ground language used between Stern and Aryan. The thick accents, mumbled, whispered voices, and low sound make it nigh on impossible for us hard of hearing folk to understand them, so a huge amount of pertinent information is missed because of this.
Okay, rant over. Despite the fantastic premise behind the story Jupiter’s Moon bears little resemblance to the sci-fi/fantasy genre, remaining grounded in the stark reality of the attendant struggles of a refugee in another country. And with additional plot threads involving religion, guilt, greed and morality, the overloaded script leaves the audience unsure as to what exactly is being said here.
Mundruczó reunites with writer Kata Weber, who co-wrote White God, but judging from this complex and oversaturated script, maybe we can infer that the best ideas found in that film came from the others involved. That may seem harsh to say but there have been occasions where the kinks in an over ambitious writer are exposed when there isn’t a filter or editor to rein them in.
Beginning with a claustrophobic nighttime journey in the back of a van for Aryan, his father, chickens, and numerous others before their desperate dash for freedom is halted by the police, the emergence of religion as a main theme is not immediate, even from the awakening of Aryan’s mysterious new powers. Not even a prologue explaining the history of the moons of Jupiter offers any clarification.
The first hint is found in an unsubtle confrontation between Stern and two bible bashers in a lift, where the shamed doctor makes his cynicism about faith abundantly clear. Funny then, that when he witnesses Aryan levitate for the first time, the first though to strike him is that this is a miracle and Aryan is an angel. Not that Stern becomes a convert on the spot but it gives him an idea of how to raise the money he sorely needs.
Having been promised help finding his father once Stern reaches his required total, Aryan agrees to show off his newly found skills to sick people in the hope seeing this gift from God sends them on their way feeling blessed. But as Stern’s kitty swells, his doctor girlfriend Vera (Mónika Balsai) begins to lose trust in him and tires in having to cover for him when László comes sniffing around.
It’s all sounding so straightforward enough despite the quirky premise so a turning point arrives in the form of a terrorist attack on a tube train that Aryan is on by two Arab suicide bombers, who were part of the original refugee group. The bag they used happened to be Aryan’s with both his and his father’s passports in them, so when the police search for clues, guess who are the prime suspects?
Whilst Aryan’s apparent demise in the bomb blast sees Stern have a change of heart and even a find a little faith but this has scant bearing on the original premise of Aryan’s illegal presence in Hungary. Aryan seems to be a catalyst for many things happening but none of them are of any real benefit to him while his losses accumulate. If this is a religious parable it is one that isn’t made very clear.
Even if we were to cheekily make comparisons to Aryan with ET, at least the little alien’s story had a point to it, whereas here it is difficult to divine if this is an attack on religion, the police force, corrupt doctors or maybe a lament at these being prevalent issues in modern Hungary.
The main casualty of this is Aryan, who suffers greatly but is essentially little more than a performing seal for Stern. Zsombor Jéger’s saturnine, gamine physical appearance suits him well in essaying this bewildered fish out of water character but he is tasked with little else. Merab Ninidze role as Stern is juicy but he has few redeeming features to empathise with, a problem that also blights György Cserhalmi’s relentless corrupt cop László.
Compensating for the cavils with the story are the visuals, a stirring blend of wonderfully rendered flying sequences assisted through CGI and giddily rotating cameras, and the single take, hand held POV shots that add urgency to the proceedings. Standing out in particular is a car chase, shot from the view of the pursuing car at high speed and in one take to rival the frantic adrenaline rush of the classic chase in The French Connection.
Mundruczó does many things right with the presentation and direction of Jupiter’s Moon (English language dialogue aside) to make this a compelling film to stick with, but even he can’t make the confused script coherent enough to lift this above being mostly a curious visual spectacle.