In 2014’s “White God,” director Kornel Mondruczo married outraged social criticism with edgy genre storytelling to thrilling effect. (If you need a refresher, that one ended with a pack of mistreated dogs basically starting a revolution and taking over Budapest.) An artistic and critical success, the film took home top honors in Un Certain Regard, giving the Hungarian director a major international profile boost and paving the way for his follow-up to premiere in Competition.
Three years later and here we are: Larger in scale than anything the director’s done before and housing some genuinely awe-inspiring visuals, “Jupiter’s Moon” continues in that previous film’s register, offering pointed commentary wrapped in allegorical fantasy. But don’t count on similar awards night success — though larger and scope and ambition, “Jupiter’s Moon” is ultimately a much less satisfying film than Mundruczo’s previous Cannes winner.
The film follows Aryan (Zsombor Jéger), a Syrian refugee who somehow develops the ability to fly after being shot entering the country. Hounded by the local authorities, he ends up shacking up with Stern (Merab Ninidze), a disgraced, alcoholic doctor who looks at Aryan’s gravity-defying feats and sees a party trick that can make him rich. And all the while the heavy hand of the state, as represented by Laszlo (György Cserhalmi), follows hot on their heels.
“Jupiter’s Moon” juggles so many ideas in the air, yet none of them ever land. Aryan is pointedly depicted as a messianic figure, but the film never makes clear what revelation he is supposed to foretell. You can squint at it one way and see an indictment of Hungary’s recent authoritarian turn, or look in another light and find a humanitarian plea for better treatment of the victims of the Syrian war, or turn it upside down and see a story of fathers and sons, of one generation learning from the next, and all would be valid. The film moves at such a jangly, frenetic pace that all of those gears are turning at the same time and all of their individual sounds are drowned out in the collective noise they make.
Mundruczo’s virtuosic visual approach remains the only steady through line. If the film does win some end-of-festival hardware, I would imagine it be in recognition of the director’s confident hand. That being said, the collected effect of a number of seemingly one-take sequences, like the terrifying anti-refugee raid that begins the picture or the no-cuts car chase towards the end, and the fact that much of the dialogue is in very proficient English, makes me think that the film’s lasting effect won’t be as awards magnet, but rather as Hollywood calling card.
Hark the herald angels sing, glory to Europe’s newborn blockbuster king.