FANTASTIC FESTIVAL: Luzifer (2021)

Johannes is a young man who has never left home and only knows his mother — a recovering addict — and the vet that cares for his eagle Arthur. Maria, the mother, has raised him on a life of hard work, isolation in the Austrian alps and service to God.

All is well.

That is, until a ski resort developer intrudes, obsessed with owning the land that Johannes and his mother live upon. His harassment starts with phone calls, but before it’s over, he’s unleashed a torrent of threats and a veritable squadron of drones upon our protagonists.

Johannes is a child trapped in a man’s body and that man is about to learn that the world that his mother has told him is true is something quite different. Has she been raising him — really, not raising him — to never grow old, to remain a child for as long as she is alive? If she’s found God in her solitude, why has she treated her son this way? And is their relationship oedipal?

Susanne Jensen, the non-actor who plays Maria, and Franz Rogowski, considered one of Europe’s finest actors is Johannes, have tackled some truly challenging roles here. This isn’t a crowd-pleasing movie per se; this is a claustrophobic piece of film that goes from stark wilderness to religious unawakening to a battle against a relentless sea of machinery within nature.

Peter Brunner is just getting started as a director — this is his third film after To the Night and Those Who Fall Have Wings — and as the son of a psychoanalyst and a painting therapist, you can see the contemplative nature of that kind of upbringing has turned him into an intelligent filmmaker; he’s also studied under Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Amour) at the Vienna Film Academy.

There’s a claim that this movie is “inspired by the true story of an exorcism.” The director also claims that this only comes at the dark end of this film. I leave that interpretation up to you, but for someone who mostly watches the work of low-end directors, seeing an artistic film like this is often like staring at the sun.

Luzifer is playing Fantastic Fest this week. When we have streaming information, we’ll update this post.

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