Young Critics review: Eden
Along with Cinea and photogénie, each year Film Fest Ghent organizes the Young Critics Workshop where upcoming talent in film criticism from around the world gathers to report on the festival.
Eden’s timely depiction of isolation and the blurry line between purity and sterility props it up to be an auspicious reflection of the 2020 experience but the film's potential is undercut by its lagging tempo which turns this two and half hour slow-burner into a chore.
Agnes Kocsis’ female protagonist/walking allegory Eva (Lana Baric) is allergic to contemporary life on this planet. She suffers from some kind of all-encompassing psychosomatic hypersensitivity towards radio waves, electronic fields, and unfiltered air, so she’s only able to go outside looking like a misplaced astronaut. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that she lives in a metaphorical spaceship—a hermetically sealed metal-plated apartment in Budapest filled with steel wire sculptures of animals which keep Eva company in her weird little soulless garden of Eden where life and death converge in an existentially sterilized whole. The only things actually keeping her alive are the two men in her life, who appear strangely enamoured with the vulnerable state she is in and the calming purity of her restricted way of life. On the one hand, there’s Eva’s possessive brother who's addicted to taking care of her and on the other, there’s her psychologist, who can’t figure out if he wants to be a love interest or just an entranced observer treating her as though she were a Papilo ulysses—the electric blue butterfly that catches his attention from behind the glass casing of a corporate hack’s sleek office desk filled with mounted insects.
In struggling with this patriarchal microcosm, Eva exposes how one man’s heaven is another woman’s hell but the film’s tone and pace slowly and meticulously defuse any sort of explosive potential this idea has. Although Kocsis seems quite able to command the viewer’s attention with static long takes that capture and reflect the uncanny beauty of Eva’s ironclad piece of antiseptic paradise, her style’s formally stale consistency reaches a tedium which occludes the possibility that any given frame will stand out. This especially becomes a problem towards the end of the film when the runtime and the build-up really start to take their toll and the aesthetic pay-off for enduring all those rigorously framed shots of gray rooms, futuristic white labs and urban non-places is a somewhat predictable zoom-out showing Earth. While the shot works on a conceptual level by reinforcing the formalist defamiliarization of our planet, it also comes off as a redundant gesture in light of the many scenes where Eva poses in her space suit effectively illustrating the fact that Earth is or can become as hostile and as alien of a place for humans as any other in the cosmos. As a whole, this incessant repetition of themes and ideas that have been already fleshed out spreads the novelty and the impact of the visuals far too thin, so the ending becomes just one more tableau in the steady stream of cinematographic tautologies.
Instead of a cogent tale of emancipation and the dangers of turning into a living corpse, embalmed in the gaze of the people closest to you, Eden is a deathly aesthetic object meant to be contemplated dispassionately from afar, where sterility comes off as stylish.