Film Review: The Zero Theorem

The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam’s latest effort offers an existential crisis in a dystopian wonderland. The Zero Theorem is intriguing but imperfect.

Qohen Leth is continually searching for the reason for human existence. His desire to answer this question is interrupted by his increasing workload, including a new projected handed to him by Management…

Terry Gilliam’s films often inhabit fantasy and dystopian worlds, and The Zero Theorem adheres to this. The film focuses on real concerns through the guise of a futuristic environment.

The Zero Theorem is highly reminiscent of Brazil, both thematically and in some ways stylistically. The film almost functions as an update of the 1985 film to include contemporary technophobic and authoritarian concerns.

The Zero Theorem‘s narrative offers the audience enough to get their teeth into. With a core of existentialism, it is fascinating to see how Gilliam and screenwriter Pat Rushin will handle the big questions. There are some interesting ideas in The Zero Theorem, although any reveals are inevitably insubstantial given the subject at hand.

There is a slight lull in momentum before the climax. It is unclear where exactly the film is heading for large periods, but this adds to the intrigue.

Production design in The Zero Theorem is great. The world featured in the film futuristic and heavily reliant on technology. Qohen’s home acts as a nice antithesis to the outside world. The use of soundtrack is highly effective at the very end of the film. Christoph Waltz offers a competent performance as Qohen. He is ably supported by Mélanie Thierry and Tilda Swinton.

The Zero Theorem does not provide a substantial response to existential concerns, but the film is interesting and entrancing science fiction.

The Zero Theorem is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

Film Review: The Princess of Montpensier

The Princess of Montpensier is a sumptuous-looking period drama that is let down somewhat by a slackness in editing. The run time of 139 minutes could have easily been trimmed, but the film has a number of merits to compensate.

When Prince Philippe of Montpensier returns from fighting heretics, his father wishes him to marry at once. The Duke chooses the beautiful Marie to be his son’s bride, even though she loves her cousin Henri de Guise. After the marriage, Philippe leaves Marie in the care of his trusted companion Compte de Chabannes. The aging nobleman educates Marie in writing and poetry, but she still has affection for Henri…

Based on the short story by Madame de La Fayette, The Princess of Montpensier offers the fairly typical themes of a period drama. The narrative follows a somewhat predictable path. Nevertheless, the film is almost subversive in its depictions. Despite the costumes and the settings, The Princess of Montepensier is not a fairy tale. Although Marie becomes a princess, her life proves to be rather mundane, at least initially. Moreover, director Bernard Tavernier does not shy away from highlighting less glamorous aspects. The wedding night, for example, is suitably awkward and completely unromantic with all the ritual that accompanies it.

Although she is remarkable only for her beauty, Marie is an engaging character. Her angst at the predicament is believable, and she is developed enough to evoke feeling from the audience. The passion and frustration she feels is sufficient to maintain interest in her plight.

The problem with The Princess of Montpensier is that it feels overlong. While a significant duration is required to construct the narrative and develop the characters, the film could have easily been cut. With tighter editing, Tavernier’s film could have been fully absorbing instead of being only sometimes absorbing.

The art direction is good, giving a film a natural look. The battle sequences look appropriately grubby, while the castles are imperfect rather than picturesque. There is great attention to detail in some respects, but the directing and editing in the fight scenes could have been sharper.

Mélanie Thierry is well cast as Marie. She brings both beauty and a sense of resolve to the character. Lambert Wilson is suitably stoic as Chabannes, while Gaspard Ulliel accurately portrays the charm of Henri de Guise.

The Princess of Montpensier can be applauded for bringing a sense of realism to the period drama. It is just a pity that it was not twenty minutes shorter.