The Starry Sky Above Me: In the head of a failed artist
by Vladan Petkovic
- Ilan Klipper's feature debut is a psychological chamber drama-comedy about how our loved ones misjudge us with the best of intentions
The Starry Sky Above Me [+see also:
film profile], the first feature by French filmmaker Ilan Klipper (known for his short Juke-Box, which won him the Special Jury Award at Clermont-Ferrand in 2014), co-written with Raphaël Neal, just had its international premiere in the Young Spirit of Europe sidebar of the European Film Festival Palić, after screening in the Cannes ACID selection.
Bruno (Laurent Poitrenaux, also appearing this year in Rodin [+see also:
film profile]) is a 50 year-old writer whose novel The Starry Sky Above Me was published in 1996 to rave reviews. Now, 20 years later, with his debut piece still the only title to his name, he lives in a shared apartment, spending nights online, waking up at 2pm and rarely going out, with his pet parrot apparently his only company. One day, he gets a surprise visit from his parents (François Chattot and Michèle Moretti), best friend Alain (musician and the film's soundtrack composer Frank Williams), and ex-wife Laetitia (Marilyne Canto), who bring a psychiatrist, Sophie, (Camille Chamoux) to see him, worried for his mental health.
At first, as the situation slowly develops and Sophie, when Bruno is not in the room, gives instructions to his loved ones, our hero thinks his parents are again trying to match-make, hence why they brought this attractive woman to him. It wouldn’t be unusual for a single man who rarely leaves home, and this is also how he perceives communication online even with long-time female friends. Bruno even has a situation from a film he likes to project his fantasies onto, Sophie Marceau and Gerard Depardieu in Maurice Pialat's Police.
However, it soon transpires that his parents and the psychiatrist are there to take him away and commit him to a mental institution, against his will if need be. When two muscular medics arrive, all hell breaks loose. There is a wonderful plot development at this point that it would be a pity to spoil for future viewers.
Klipper takes care to put the audience in the head of the protagonist. We are never really sure what is fantasy or projection, and what is reality - the director often keeps both on the more or less same tonal level, which makes the viewing experience all the more intriguing. There is always lots going on visually, and it is to Klipper's and editor Carole Le Page's credit that what is basically a psychological chamber piece feels so varied and dynamic.
This is a film that asks questions about how well our nearest and dearest know us, and how their perception of us changes perhaps more because of their own points of view and emotional needs rather than our actions. The only person that seems to really understand Bruno is his flatmate Justyna (Alma Jodorowsky, with whom there is a lovely episode), while Laetitia is, perhaps quite unexpectedly, the one who seems to want to protect him in the most selfless way.
All the actors are excellent, and Poitrenaux, for whom this is the first lead role in a long and successful career that has mostly played out in theatre, gives his all to this neurotic, egoistic, certainly lost, but essentially human character.
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