Jupiter’s Moon (Icarus Films, NR)

Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó tends to think allegorically, employing magical realism and high-concept conceits in the service of whatever social message or universal theme he’s on about. The success of his approach varies. Some films receive acclaim, others fall completely flat. His previous work, White God, combines a coming-of-age story with themes of parental friction and a sentient dog uprising that underlines various societal ills, mainly callousness and opportunism. The film invokes some interesting points, although not revelatory ones, and so remains in my memory as notable but non-essential. Jupiter’s Moon strikes me even less. The unjustified science fiction element distracts from the political context it’s meant to comment on,

The film follows Aryan Dashni (Zsombor Jéger), a Syrian refugee crossing into Hungary who discovers he can levitate after being shot down by a border guard. While recovering in a refugee camp he meets Gábor Stern (Merab Ninidze), an alcoholic doctor who accepts payments to aid detainees in escaping the camp. Amazed by Aryan’s ability, Stern smuggles him out and poses as a spiritual healer, peddling Aryan as a kind of living miracle and using the fleeced money to pay off a family whose son he killed while performing drunken surgery. At the same time, László (György Cserhalmi), the officer who shot Aryan, amasses a police unit to hunt down the pair.

Although the Syrian refugee crisis serves as a backdrop, Stern’s redemption arc becomes the primary focus, reducing the other storylines to mere setups. Aryan’s levitation, the refugees, the police manhunt— all so Stern can learn to take responsibility for his fatal mistakes. What should be a secondary wrap-up in a larger story becomes the central plot, and whatever social commentary Mundruczó was trying to make gets totally lost in this tangent. With such charged subject matter, Stern’s journey seems unbearably facile and a complete waste of potential.

Mundruczó is guilty of the same thing as Stern. He appropriates Aryan’s supernatural abilities for an unworthy cause. The levitation symbolizes nothing and has no explanation. Aryan’s powers serve only to throw Stern into a life-altering manhunt and to provide the film with neat, ethereal floating sequences. Is Aryan an angel, an alien from one of Jupiter’s moons (which contains potentially life-supporting saltwater, an opening title explains), or something else? None of these questions are answered and, therefore, the connection between the supernatural elements and the topical setting goes undeveloped. What is it about Aryan being able to levitate and being used by Stern that connects to the Syrian refugee crisis? Each instance of levitation feels like filler but also gets treated like a climax, and so by the fifth or sixth time it happens, it just feels pretentious.

Fantasy elements can certainly work to explore contemporary issues, but those elements need to be rooted in the story and not merely slapped on. Here, they only feel like bait, something to stand out. The movie could have been all about Stern taking money from refugees to pay his debts, and that would have said everything Mundruczó seemingly wanted to say. It probably would have been more compelling, too. | Nic Champion

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