PLANETARIUM. A must-see for Natalie Portman fans

Natalie Portman’s performance is very successful.

Lukasz Budnik

3 January 2024

Sitting down for a screening of “Planetarium,” I didn’t quite know what to expect. The name of the director, Rebecca Zlotowski, meant nothing to me before, and I had no idea that Johnny Depp had a daughter involved in acting. The film interested me primarily because Natalie Portman was in the cast, who, in my opinion, is a serious contender for the title of the best active film actress in the world.

I also knew that despite its considerable commercial potential (the names Portman and Depp should be sufficient to ensure financial success for this film), “Planetarium” sparked little interest and received rather unfavorable reviews. Finding a cinema in the Tricity area that showed this production at reasonable hours was a truly challenging task.

Zlotowski’s film is ambitious, but the ambitions of the creators did not fully materialize. It is not a masterpiece, and it doesn’t tell a story that would change our view of the world or emotionally move us. Nevertheless, watching it cannot be considered a waste of time – Zlotowski succeeded in some aspects while failing in others.

“Planetarium” revolves around the fate of the Barlow sisters engaged in a rather specific stage activity – the younger, Kate, serves as a medium to help the audience communicate with the deceased, while the older, Laura (Natalie Portman), builds tension during the performance and takes care of the organizational side. During one of the shows, the eccentric millionaire André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger) notices the sisters. He has some unresolved issues with one of the deceased and becomes fascinated by the sisters, deciding to make a film about ghostly contacts. In this film, the role of the medium is assigned to Laura, devoid of psychic abilities but very talented in acting.

Let’s start with what succeeded. “Planetarium” is primarily a play with form – it’s evident that the team had no shortage of ideas. The film is visually appealing, and there are several interesting techniques to capture emotions on screen. Look at the scene, for example, where Laura Barlow observes a group of partygoers, wondering which one wrote an offensive message on the mirror in her room. There are many such nuances, making the film enjoyable despite the poorly outlined plot, as discussed shortly.

Natalie Portman’s performance is also very successful. At times, it seemed to me that this production was made solely to showcase her acting skills. It appears that Zlotowski decided to turn Laura into an actress just to demonstrate how Natalie works in front of the camera. Even if it seems like grabbing the razor’s edge, it is an interesting and bold move. However, it should be noted that it resembles grasping a double-edged sword. If not for the charisma, expressiveness, and immense acting talent of Portman portraying the older Barlow sister, the film would lose more than half of its value. Portman shines brightly also because the background is quite matte – Emmanuel Salinger appears pale, although it’s not his fault but the poorly constructed character he portrays. Lily-Rose Depp is good, but she doesn’t really act; she simply exists on screen.

Now, let’s address what didn’t work in “Planetarium.” First and foremost, the film failed to create interesting and vivid characters. I already mentioned the weakness of André Korben, played by Salinger. Even the character of Laura Barlow was not properly developed, although Portman managed to save her with superhuman effort. I couldn’t feel any sympathy or antipathy toward any of the people in the movie, resulting in the spectacular collapse of Korben, which, presumably, was supposed to be moving but made almost no impression on me. Perhaps the most distinctive is Kate Barlow, played by Lily-Rose Depp, but she does not constitute the film’s axis; at best, she forms a reasonably chosen background.

For fans of Natalie Portman, “Planetarium” is a must-see – she rarely has the opportunity to indulge in such uncompromising performance as in Zlotowski’s film (she recently excelled similarly in “Black Swan,” which, however, was a much more successful work). Still, to be honest, everyone else can safely skip it. This film is a well-executed average, where good ideas and the fantastic performance of the biggest star balance out with narrative chaos and the blurred overall concept of the work. Nevertheless, I am curious about Zlotowski’s next film, wondering if she will learn from the mistakes made. If so, and if she manages to convince a figure of Portman’s caliber to collaborate again, I will definitely go to the cinema.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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