Cannes Review: 'Jupiter's Moon' wants to be 'Children of Men' but fails

"White God" premiered a few years back at Cannes and proved to be an acclaimed hit at the fest. What was most exciting was the emergence of a new talent, director Kornél Mundruczó, who tackled his native Hungary's socio-political struggles through the eyes of a mixed breed canine named Hagen. The kinetic and frenetic over-stylization might have turned off a few timid souls, but Mundruczó made his mark, put a stamp on the fest if you will, and many were anxiously awaiting his next cinematic step forward.

Two years later he is back at Cannes, this time in official competition, with the ambitious sci-fi religious epic "Jupiter's Moon." Clocking in at 122 minutes, the film follows Aryan, a Syrian refugee, trying to cross the border, who is shot multiple times by crooked border officer Laszlo, a demonically charged Szabolcs Bede Fazekas. Not only does Aryan survive, but he starts to levitate in the sky and discovers that he has some kind of miraculous power.

Nobody sees the levitation happen. Once Aryan plants himself back down to earth authorities find him and put him in a refugee camp where the film's main protagonist, Dr. Stern (Merab Ninidze), notices the levitation again in full view. He is stunned. Although his heart can be in the right place, and he does seem to care for Aryan, Stern is corrupt and owes debt to a family of suitors, which leads him to sneak Aryan away from the camp and exploit him. He makes Aryan perform the miraculous feat to willing and paying customers in exchange for the refugee's freedom and a reunion with his dad back home.

Tackling both pertinently timely issues, the refugee crisis, and very silly ones, the levitation is supposed to be seen a religious miracle, "Jupiter's Moon" feels like a superhero movie crossed with Mexican new wave cinema. The film will surely be one of the more unique moviegoing experiences of the festival, I doubt we'll see another film like it this or any other year, even if it is narratively inconsistent in both tone and execution.

The trafficking of Aryan's "miracles" brings an almost quasi-biblical nature to the film, albeit one that feels forced and pretentious. Which can also be said of Mundruczó's direction. A clear influence here seems to be Alfonso Cuarron's "Children of Men" and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Birdman," and "The Revenant" for that matter. In fact, the ambitious long take that opens the movie, one of many, has refugees caught crossing the water border and running for their lives and seems to be a direct riff on The Revenant's stunning opening sequence.

The movie doesn't lack in ambition, always a good thing, but it also doesn't seem to really find its own distinctive identity either. What does it want to be exactly? A superhero movie? A statement on the refugee crisis? A religious epic? Suffice to say that it probably wants to be all three, but that in turn makes for a messy, narratively incoherent ride. A good half hour could have been snipped to tighten the narrative's construct, maybe then "Jupiter's Moon" would have worked better. What we are left with instead is a film that has a collection of stunning sequences that don't add up to much, which eventually leads to repetitiveness and an anticlimactic finale.