Mars et Avril – Reviewed

Single Sentence Review: A French love story, interrupted by transporters, space ships, and global bullet trains.

Mars et Avril movie posterMars et Avril: Jacob Obus is a 75 year old jazz musician, collapsing into darkness and isolation. He is world famous. His instruments are completely unique, not just in look, but in function. Each is modeled after a woman’s body and he never speaks to the models. This all smacks of misogyny, objectification and womanizing, as Obus blows on, strokes, fondles, and generally makes love to those bodies each time he plays the stage.

Every instrument is special, played with various fingerings, combining woodwind, string and whatever it takes to recreate the woman’s body. Each instrument reports a sound never heard before. And still he won’t speak to any of the models.

Until now.

Mars et Avril Trailer

Avril will not be turned away. She will experience all of Obus, inside and out. She turns the tables. Obus, while modeling for Avril, who is also photographer, is stripped naked and exposed. In his vulnerability, he confesses that the love he makes on stage is a ruse. He has never been with a woman, and alas we understand why he is isolated. She is moved, and they fall in love.

Avril is also having an affair with Obus’ instrument concept artist, Arthur, a much younger man. Arthur fights for Avril. He disparages his employer, and alleged friend, at every turn.

All the while, we are in communication with the world’s first Marsonaughts, who are for some reason (most likely an excuse to create pretty graphics), traveling at relativistic speeds to the planet next door. It’s fuzzy math time, as we are speaking to them live, even though they are supposed to be experiencing time dilation. Despite their training for the mission, time dilation is explained to them on camera.

The visual effects in the film are nice, and the compositing of Mars and Avril, although beautiful, is again crafted in support of the theme, without any forward movement of the plot.

Spoilers
The most interesting thing about Mars et Avril is that it was filmed with a  low budget, nearly volunteer wages for the visual effects team, and the coup of Canadian actor Robert Lepage’s appearance in a starring role. This is so astounding, that director Martin Villeneuve has given a TED, talk Mars et Avril: How I Made an Impossible Film.

After finally finding love, Obus must lose it, as Avril has teleported to Mars to be the first woman Marsonaught. (She couldn’t transport before now, because a capsule hadn’t been placed on the other side until people landed on Mars.)

A lovesick Obus, finally receiving the instrument modeled after Avril, finds that he can not play it. At least not alone. Obus realizes he needs Arthur to play the instrument with him, and to love Avril. Together, they can both love her, without either possessing her. And why should they want to? They’ve both learned their lesson about objectification, right?

The central force of the plot movement, Avril, makes all her own decisions. But she disappears for a quarter of the film, leaving us without any strong persona.

For Mars et Avril a few plot turns remain, their execution swathed in symbolism and surrealism. Particle effects and a lovely CGI landscape swirl together in an orgy of light, a questioning of reality, and philosophical exploration. Unfortunately Obus is just a passenger, passively experiencing the infliction of circumstance upon him by other characters, never embracing his choices, preventing us from feeling empathy, or even sympathy.

Ultimately the journey leads inside one of the instruments (remember, these are women’s bodies, we had to go inside), where Obus finally makes the decision to trust his love for Avril and Arthur (though we still can’t understand how he could love Arthur, who has inexplicably become nice), to fight against his own demon: loneliness.

For the finale, we are meant to ponder whether this entire experience is just Obus’ death poem, or a love song, played with the rest of the band. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Mars et Avril follows the foregone conclusion of the form: tragic loss and noble sacrifice for love, peppered with saccharine redemption.

Plot: 3.2
Directing: 3.3
Cinematography: 3.5
Acting: 4
Sound: 3
Film Score: 3.4 (Out of 5)
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