×

Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: ‘Sophia Antipolis’

A technology park in the South of France becomes a microcosm of modern urban isolation and despair in this elusive, intelligent docudrama.

With:
Dewi Kunetz, Hughes Njiba-Mukuna, Sandra Poitoux, Bruck, Lilith Grasmug.

Running time: 98 MIN.

There are two Sophias in French director Virgil Vernier’s clever, cunning, chilling fifth feature. The first is its setting, the eponymous “Sophia Antipolis,” a technology park in the south of France, a place self-consciously designed as an experiment in social engineering, where an international community of professionals would, it was hoped, create an environment of innovation beneficial to the computing, pharma and biotech companies it comprised.

The second Sophia is the teenage girl whose charred remains are found in a deserted area of the park, and whose grisly death becomes only the most dramatic emblem of the thrumming paranoia and low-level despair that instead characterize the region, according to Vernier’s unsettling vision. This is a mercilessly pessimistic appraisal of the attempt to prefabricate a society along idealistic but corporate lines, which results in diversity without integration and a rootless modernity that exists in isolation of history, and all its lessons of wisdom. Which in Greek, of course, is sophia.

A fascinating tension exists between the antique, grainy, warm aesthetic of Simon Roca and Tom Harari’s 16mm photography and the slicing, hyper-modern sterility of the film’s mood. A cast of non-professionals adds a further layer of docudrama verisimilitude (Vernier’s filmography includes both fiction and nonfiction features and shorts), as does the absence of any score or musical signposting. This dispassionate, alien’s-eye sensibility makes “Sophia Antipolis” an absorbing yet uncanny experience: Here, even the most outlandish of scenarios seems plausible, factual, and the quasi-fantastical and the horrific are bedded so deeply into the strip-lit banal that it’s hard to tell where one ends and other begins.

This is a place where 16-year-olds lie about their age in order to get breast implants. In the film’s arresting opening, a series of young women are being taken through the pre-screening procedures for breast augmentation by a smooth-talking plastic surgeon. He draws outlines of the incision points in marker on one girl’s naked torso; to another he offers some words of advice as she tries on different implant sizes and admires her new synthetic profile in the mirror.

Simulation, artificiality and performativity become common themes as Vernier and Mariette Desert’s fitful, elusive screenplay skips like a stone across the surface of several lives in this contemporary dystopia. An Asian mail-order bride, recently widowed and left with an apartment, a modest income and nothing to do, starts attending the meetings of a local cult, where a charismatic leader puts people into hypnotic trances. Soon she is recruiting new followers as she herself was recruited, following the same script, knocking on doors looking for similarly vulnerable people.

Across town a young black man takes to his training as a security guard and is inducted into an unofficial militia who run a sort of underground fight club in which they perform simulated muggings, rapes and humiliations on each other. And later, Sophia’s murder is re-enacted by the authorities trying to solve the case, and a classmate — the only person who really seems to mourn her — notes how people always said the two of them looked alike, while two men matter-of-factly paint over the scorchmarks on the wall against which her body burned. This is a frictionless world where, in the absence of real intimacy and community everything is just a substitute for something else, and everyone is a lone agent trying desperately to find a tribe to which they can belong, whatever the physical, mental or spiritual cost.

Vernier’s work often revolves around the relationship between people and their surroundings, and “Sophia Antipolis” continues and expands on that project, asking uncomfortably topical questions about human society in an inhuman, or at least non-human age. The word “Antipolis” means simply “the city across” but it’s hard not to think of it here as an anti-polis, an anti-city, a place almost infernally designed to alienate its citizens from itself and each other. And as specific as it may be to a small industrial zone between Nice and Cannes, it’s equally difficult not to recognize almost every modern urban environment in this razor-sharp film’s nightmare vision of estrangement, atomization and a citizenry, unnoticed even by themselves, going gradually mad with loneliness.

Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Sophia Antipolis'

Reviewed online, Berlin, June 14, 2019. (In Locarno, San Sebastian film festivals.) Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (France) A Kazak Productions production, in co-production with M141, Arte France, with the participation of Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine in association with Arte Cofinova 14, with the support of CNC, Procirep, Angoa. (Int'l sales: Mk2, Paris). Producer: Jean-Christophe Reymond.

Crew: Director: Virgil Vernier. Screenplay: Vernier, Mariette Desert. Camera (color, widescreen): Simon Roca, Tom Harari. Editor: Charlotte Cherici.

With: Dewi Kunetz, Hughes Njiba-Mukuna, Sandra Poitoux, Bruck, Lilith Grasmug.

More Film

  • Female-Led and LGBTQ Narratives Win Big

    Female-Led and LGBTQ Narratives Win Big At Durban FilmMart Awards

    DURBAN–Female-driven narratives and daring portraits of queer culture around the continent were the big winners at this year’s Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, which handed out awards at a ceremony Monday night at the Southern Sun Maharani Hotel. Among the prize-winners were the story of a Zimbabwean woman [...]

  • Oscar Nominations Reactions Phyllis Nagy

    Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy Runs for Writers Guild Presidency, Citing Agency Stalemate

    Oscar-nominated screenwriter Phyllis Nagy is challenging Writers Guild of America West’s incumbent president David Goodman, citing his handling of the bitter stalemate between the WGA and Hollywood agents. Nagy announced her candidacy online Monday night, a day before the deadline for filing. She made the announcement  in a private online group as part of Writers for [...]

  • Klaudia-Reynicke

    Locarno: Summerside Picks Up ‘Love Me Tender’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rome-based Summerside Intl. has acquired international sales rights to Klaudia Reynicke’s “Love Me Tender.” The second feature from Peru-born and Switzerland-based filmmaker will receive its world premiere at the Locarno Festival in its Filmmakers of the Present competition, which focuses on first and second features. More Reviews Concert Review: Queen and Adam Lambert Capitalize on [...]

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • Tarantino Movies Ranked Illustration

    All of Quentin Tarantino's Movies Ranked

    In the history of cinema, has any director done more to elevate the idea of movies as cool than Quentin Tarantino? Certainly, the idea that films could be made by fans dates back at least to the French New Wave, when a group of die-hard critics stepped behind the camera. A few years later, Spielberg, [...]

  • A Stranger on the Beach

    Anonymous Content Wins Film Rights to Michele Campbell's 'A Stranger on the Beach' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anonymous Content has won the adaptive rights to the forthcoming Michele Campbell novel “A Stranger on the Beach.” In a competitive situation, Anonymous outbid multiple players for the thriller, which it will adapt for the big screen with in-house producers Alex Goldstone and Rosalie Swedlin. More Reviews Concert Review: Queen and Adam Lambert Capitalize on [...]

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener Team on 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon and Affleck co-wrote the script with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener. Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. Drew Vinton is also [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content