×

Film Review: ‘News From Planet Mars’

A spaced-out 49-year-old dad takes in the weirdo who nearly killed him at work in Dominik Moll's weird (but not quite eccentric enough) French comedy.

With:
Francois Damines, Vincent Macaigne, Veerle Baetens, Jeanne Guittet, Tom Rivoire, Michel Aumont, Catherine Samie, Philippe Laudenbach, Olivia Cote, Lea Drucker, Julien Sibre, Olivier Faliez, Eric Bougnon, Gaspard Meier-Chaurand, Olivier Galzi, Mario Pecqueur, Olivier Faursel, Hayssam Hoballah. (French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5038358/

Judging by his free-floating astronaut fantasies, Philippe Mars is not the kind of man they think he is at home (oh, no, no, no, he’s a rocket man!) and it will take an eccentric — and possibly homicidal — houseguest to bring him back round to find his footing in Dominik Moll’s melancholy mid-life crisis dramedy “News From Planet Mars.” Although not nearly as surreal as it sounds, this more out-there reunion between Moll and “With a Friend Like Harry” co-writer Gilles Marchand exhumes some of the odd dynamics of their earlier quasi-thriller (which earned four Cesar awards and more than $30 million dollars worldwide), but will have a harder time blasting off outside of Europe.

Being selected to premiere in competition at Berlin should give this French-Belgian co-production some mileage in its home countries (it’s set to open both on March 9), while raising interest in Germany and other like-minded markets. But even a few genuinely eccentric touches — mostly dream sequences involving Philippe wearing either a spacesuit or a gorilla mask — won’t be enough to spark Stateside interest, especially when one considers that star Francois Damiens’ even more gonzo, Golden Globe-nominated “The Brand New Testament” still doesn’t have U.S. distribution.

In the film’s dark-comedy terms, Damiens is the straight man in a world spiraling increasingly out of control. At first, it’s the little things that get to him, like politely asking a sore neighbor to pick up after his dog, then having to do it himself. Practically everyone in his life has anger management issues, but not Philippe, who goes about his routine in a daze, allowing others to exploit him at every turn: His TV reporter ex-wife (Lea Drucker) drops the kids off early because she’s got a big story in Brussels; his hyper-critical daughter Sarah (Jeanne Guittet) and newly vegetarian son Gregoire (Tom Rivoire) barely acknowledge their dad’s 49th birthday; and his IT company boss (Julien Sibre) knows Philippe has his hands full, but asks him to baby-sit problem colleague Jerome (Vincent Macaigne) anyway.

Via memorable roles in films such as “Two Friends” and “Eden,” the easily typecast Macaigne is quickly cementing his position as France’s answer to Zach Galifianakis — a somber, usually-bearded misfit with a tendency to behave in wild, unpredictable ways. Here, Moll imagines the actor as Philippe’s nutcase doppelganger, an irrepressible id-like figure whose spontaneous explosions of frustration and violence are the polar opposite of Philippe’s unflappable calm. Jerome carries a meat cleaver with him at all times, caressing its blade to calm himself in moments of extreme agitation (a strategy that most onlookers would agree is far more dangerous than sedative).

Before long, Philippe finds himself on the business end of Jerome’s butcher knife — a confrontation that costs him his ear and leaves him head-bandaged and, according to his unhelpful boss, looking like Vincent Van Gogh. Willing to forgive the workplace mishap as a big misunderstanding, Philippe accepts Jerome — and his psych-ward new g.f. Chloe (Veerie Baetens) — into his home, despite the fact that neither seems a particularly stable influence on his kids. Gregoire is especially drawn to Jerome’s problematic personality, and before long, the young vegetarian (who has already taken the defiant step of “liberating” all the frogs intended for dissection in biology class) is planning to blow up a nearby poultry-processing plant.

By this point, a comedy that began firmly grounded in recognizable behavior has veered into almost cartoonish territory, complete with appearances by Philippe’s dead parents (Michel Aumont and Catherine Samie), who laugh at the fact his kids have reached that rebellious age. And yet, with the exception of a racy text message in which one of Gregoire’s 12-year-old classmates suggests they engage in a very naughty extracurricular activity, there’s nothing here that wouldn’t be right at home in a classic Disney family movie — the sort where the Damiens role would have been played by Dean Jones.

Well, there is the question of Philippe’s artistic sister Xanae (Olivia Cote), whose gallery opening includes explicit paintings of their dead parents, but generally speaking, “News From Planet Mars” manages to be sweet, at least when compared to the calculatedly sinister undertones “With a Friend Like Harry.” Drifting away like “Gravity’s” Sandra Bullock in his own daydreams, Philippe doesn’t even realize he needs to fight for his family until Jerome comes along and shows him, and though the kooky finale (in which Philippe climbs back into an explosives-loaded car to rescue Gregoire’s frogs) feels entirely too forced and not at all satisfactory, the resolution finally reveals the sentiment Moll was shooting for all along.

After all, Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise the kids. In fact it’s cold as hell. And for all its weird observations and curious side characters, Moll’s hyper-stylized outing (whose eccentricity is compounded by its extreme-widescreen visual format) is ultimately about a man retrieving his place within the nuclear family. And while the funky, retro-sounding score is a clue that he might have had Elton John’s “Rocket Man” in mind, the movie instead ends with the classic “Come Take a Trip in My Airship.” Either way, the message is clear by the end of the movie: “Earth to Mars. You’re needed here.”

Film Review: 'News From Planet Mars'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 16, 2016. Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: (France-Belgium) A Diaphana Films, Artemis Prods., France 3 Cinema production. (International sales: Memento Films, Paris.) Produced by Michel Saint-Jean. Co-producer, Patrick Quinet.

Crew: Directed by Dominik Moll. Screenplay, Moll, Gilles Marchand. Camera (color, widescreen), Jean-Francois Hensgens; editor, Margo Meynier; music, Adrian Johnston; production designer, Emmanuelle Duplay; costume designer, Virginie Montel; sound, Francois Maurel; supervising sound editor, Loic Prian; re-recording mixer, Thomas Gauder; visual effects supervisor, Mikael Tanguy; assistant director, Rafaele Ravinet-Virbel; casting, Agathe Hassenforder.

With: Francois Damines, Vincent Macaigne, Veerle Baetens, Jeanne Guittet, Tom Rivoire, Michel Aumont, Catherine Samie, Philippe Laudenbach, Olivia Cote, Lea Drucker, Julien Sibre, Olivier Faliez, Eric Bougnon, Gaspard Meier-Chaurand, Olivier Galzi, Mario Pecqueur, Olivier Faursel, Hayssam Hoballah. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • The-Ancient-Law

    Lumière Festival’s MIFC Broadens International Spotlight with Focus on Germany

    The 7th Lumière Film Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) is expanding its international scope this year with more foreign companies than ever before taking part in the event, high-profile guests and an examination of Germany’s heritage cinema sector. With 17 international firms from 25 countries at the event, the MIFC has reported a 20% [...]

  • US actor Donald Sutherland poses for

    Donald Sutherland Reflects in Lyon On A Life And Career Marked By Cinema

    In a loose and free-flowing on-stage interview held at the Lumière Festival this past Sunday, Donald Sutherland reflected on his decade-spanning career with a tone that mixed personal irreverence alongside genuine veneration for the art form that brought him this far. “I love filmmakers, I really do,” said the Canadian actor, who delighted the local [...]

  • Terry Back chairman ACF

    Veteran U.K. Media Investor Terry Back Joins ACF as Chairman

    CANNES — Veteran U.K. film industry investor Terry Back has joined ACF investment bank as chairman. ACF, headed by CEO Thomas Dey, has been at the forefront of the M&A activity around independent TV and film production outfits, mostly in the unscripted TV arena. ACF is in the midst of expanding its activities in the [...]

  • Joker

    Korea Box Office: 'Joker' Remains on Top, 'Gemini Man' Lands in Fourth

    Warner Bros.’ “Joker” remained on top of the South Korean box office in its second weekend. The American psychological thriller earned $5.71 million from 768,000 admissions between Friday and Sunday, for a total of $28.3 million from 3.85 million admissions after two weekends. It accounted for 46% of total weekend box office in the country. [...]

  • dolittle-DRD_Tsr1Sht_1011_RGB_4_rgb-1

    Robert Downey Jr. Embarks on Perilous Journey in First 'Dolittle' Trailer (Watch)

    Robert Downey Jr. is setting sail with some furry friends in the first trailer for “Dolittle,” Universal Pictures’ reimagining of the classic story about a man who could speak to animals. “We have no choice but to embark on this perilous journey,” he says. Set to a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” [...]

  • Parasite

    Bong Joon Ho's 'Parasite' Posts Powerful Opening in North America

    Bong Joon-Ho’s dark comedy “Parasite,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, has launched with a spectacular $376,264 at three U.S. theaters.  Neon opened “Parasite” at The Landmark and Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles and at the IFC Center in New York, where it broke the opening record set by 2014’s “Boyhood.” Its per-screen average of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content