Christophe Honoré (Love Songs, The Beautiful Person, Making Plans for Lena)'s interpretation of Roman poet Ovid's Greco-Roman mythic tales of god and demigods starts out with a modern day hunter in the forest, running into a flame-haired, nude transgender person who graces him with pixie dust and turns him into a deer. The hunter becomes the hunted. From the get-go, Metamorphoses promises to be a very playful, dirty fantasy where anything can happen.
Filled to the brim with young nude bodies (usually full frontal), the film tells a high school girl, Europa (Amira Akili), skipping school and being kidnapped by Jupiter in the form of a charming truck driver. It's a sexual, spiritual awakening for Europa, as she mingles in turn with Jupiter, Bacchus and Orpheus.
Story within a story within a story plays out, some funny, some dark, but all enjoyable, putting emphasis on sexual ambiguity and transformation in human beings. The film is something like a dream of a horny teenager who has fallen asleep in a literature class.
Honoré told me in an interview before that he is not the type of director who'd want to make nice movies to be remembered fondly by the next generation of film-goers. He's the sort of a filmmaker/dad who'd rather make things which his own daughter would be a little ashamed of. Working with mostly non-actors, he charges on bravely, with lots of nudity, challenging today's ridgid, conservative society and reminds us that, ironically, things were much more transgressive and open, more than two thousand years ago, when Ovid first wrote those poems.
Shot in widescreen and vivid colors by André Chemetoff (Our Day Will Come), featuring many salacious images, Metamorphoses is a great visual feast. It also includes a breathtakingly gorgeous underwater scene where Orpheus attempts to retrieve Eurydice from the underworld.
There are many idyllic nature settings, most of them near the water which is the running theme of the film. These ordinary settings take on a heavenly significance as young gods and demigods christening themselves in the torquois water. Diverse cast of young non-actors engage in tug-and-pull rituals of love and physical, feral courtship. One such dance-like courtship on a river bank involves the rising French star/circus trained actress Vimala Pons and it's a sight to see.
In the death of the skateboarding Narcissus (Arthur Jacquin) chapter, you can see the same theme coursing through many of Honoré's films: a love-sick character's self-destructive demise, as the case in Love Songs, Beautiful Person and so on.
Playful, dirty, edgy, organic and beautiful in its micro-budget way, the film has a lot in common with Gomes's Arabian Nights Trilogy which came out a year after. Honoré doesn't bother with elaborate mise-en-scene or special effects. Human to animal transformations are usually done in simple edits.
Honoré delved into many different genres over the years, working with who's-who in French cinema as well as non-actors, dipping back, from time to time, to his indepedent roots. I saw his adorable new film Sophie's Misfortunes at this year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema. Given that it's a straight up children's film right after Metamorphoses, it shows Honoré's dexterity as a filmmaker.
Metamorphoses works as a dreamy poetry. It's an ode to youth and an abashed celebration of amorphous nature of human sexuality. I am so glad it is getting a theatrical run here in the States. It's an absolute blast!
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema can be found at www.dustinchang.com