Cannes review: Jupiter’s Moon (2017)

In Jupiter’s Moon Kornél Mundruczó takes an intriguing and timely magical realist premise but leaves its resolution in mid air.


by Alexa Dalby

Jupiter’s Moon

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Kornél Mundruczó’s Jupiter’s Moon starts with the explanation that one of Jupiter’s moons may have an underground sea and be able to support human life. It’s one of several timely films in Cannes – among them Michael Haneke’s Happy End and Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow – that take their inspiration from the refugee crisis as it affects Europe.

It gets off to a grimly realistic start with a close-up of caged chickens that opens up into the back of a lorry crammed with men, women and children from the Middle East – refugees or illegal migrants, depending on which side you’re on. It breaks into urgent, frantic hand-held camera scenes at night under water and in woods as they flee chaotically across the Hungarian/Serbian border when the border police arrive. Shots are fired at the fugitives and Aryan (Zsombor Jéger) is hit and apparently dies – until he rises again and levitates. He appears again in the holding camp where the escapees are taken, having been separated from his father. Anti-establishment doctor Gabor Stern (Merab Ninidze), who works there, examines Aryan and is astonished to discover his newly acquired powers. He springs Aryan’s release from the camp so that he can carry out further medical investigations but, in reality, to exploit him for financial gain.

Hungary’s treatment of refugees has been openly criticised in the media and the situation at this border has been in the news. Jupiter’s Moon explores the hostility towards Syrian refugees and the brutality with which they are treated. Camp controller Lazlo (György Cserhalmi) ruthlessly hunts down any escapees and when he discovers Aryan can levitate, he is relentless in pursuing him after Stern takes him on the run.

As Aryan levitates, the film itself takes off into magical realism. Belief in God and the Bible is a bellwether of how people react to him. As someone who seemingly survived death and can fly at will, could this strange young man actually be an angel come to earth? Could belief in his powers mean that he can also work miracles? Stern, corrupt as well as idealistic, sees this blurring as a means of making the money he needs to prevent himself being sued by relatives of a former patient: Aryan needs money to buy legal documentation and to find his father again – the resulting partnership of supernatural healers is too dangerous to be let loose in Budapest.

The film is Mundruczo’s fifth feature to screen in Cannes and his third to play in Competition following Delta, which won the Fipresci prize in 2008, and Tender Son in 2010. Joan and White God were selected for Un Certain Regard in 2005 and 2014 respectively, the latter, with its memorable final scene, winning that section’s main prize.

Jupiter’s Moon is an intriguing, original idea that’s unfortunately not followed through in its execution, almost as if Mundruczó didn’t know where to take it. Just when you think the film is approaching a conclusion, he throws terrorism into the mix of religion, refugees and migration, not to mention a couple of car chases and shoot-outs. Sadly, the dialogue (even in English subtitles) seems clichéd. It’s not helped by the fact that much of it – the scenes between Stern and Aryan – are in English, it being their common language, but Ninidze’s delivery of what seems to be an unfamiliar tongue to him is heavily accented and frustratingly expressionless, detracting from any drama. Though Aryan does better, it does seem strange that for a central character for whom being Syrian is so crucial, he is played by a Hungarian actor. It’s good that this subject has been done at all but ultimately strangely disappointing.

Jupiter’s Moon is now screening in the Official Selection of the 70th Cannes Film Festival.

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