Studio: Screen Media Films
Director: Tilman Singer
Writer: Tilman Singer
Producer: Tilman Singer, Dario Mendez Acosta
Stars: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler, Nadja Stubiger, Johannes Benecke, Lilli Lorenz
A conflict between a young woman and a demonic entity reaches its climax when the woman is hypnotized inside a police station.
Based on everything I’d read beforehand, I had strong suspicions “Luz” wouldn’t be to my liking. It only took the film’s first four minutes, which consist of a wounded woman wandering a police station lobby in one continuous wide shot, to confirm my fears were founded. Due to its stream of consciousness styling, “Luz” epitomizes the auteur-intensive aesthetic that nearly never appeases my appetite for tangible cinematic storytelling.
That’s not to say “Luz’s” shower of avant-garde ambiguity won’t feel fresh to someone. Prior to public release, the film won multiple awards worldwide at well-known festivals while critics crowed about its visionary vibe. Evidently, primed minds are capable of synching with its darkly dreamy atmosphere.
Determining whether you’ll join my side or theirs is somewhat straightforward. Virtually everything anyone needs to know about “Luz” can be gleaned from simple sentences describing its genesis with general facts.
Writer/director Tilman Singer created “Luz” as his senior thesis project at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. It exhibits the polish of a professional production, yet “Luz” is still a student film. And Singer imbues his hallucinatory horror movie with all of the ethereal oddness to be expected from a fledgling filmmaker fearlessly finding his voice through experimentation.
“Luz” is a mood movie whose mood forms on a foundation of 70s/80s giallo. 16mm film grain and a warbly synth score put a retro filter over crackling audio and sterile production design. Most of the dialogue is spoken in German while licks of Spanish inject additional foreign flourishes. Characters intentionally come across as imaginary inventions, like ideas made flesh, as opposed to authentic people. Spartan sets similarly sell themselves as conceptual spaces for playing around the fringes of an abstract nightmare. Whatever impression of “Luz” you now have forming in your mind’s eye, I assure you it is accurate.
Summarizing the “story” in typical terms would be a fool’s errand. “Luz” keeps its narrative in a constant state of flux where characters morph through multiple identities and no discernible difference delineates life from death or dreams from reality.
As much as it qualifies as being “about” anything, “Luz” can reductively be considered a demonic possession thriller. The titular young woman drives a cab, and an accident involving a passenger connected to her past brings her to the police. A psychotherapist enters the picture and compels Luz to relive a crucial event from her school days as well as her recent ride with another strange woman.
Don’t stress yourself with practical concerns like why or even who. “Luz” doesn’t. Linear plot beats aren’t the movie’s connective tissue. Nonlinear artfulness is. Thus, details aren’t important for getting “Luz” where it wants to go, which is straight into a maddening spiral of interpretive eeriness.
“Luz” earns its hypnotic wooziness on the work of an entrancing cast. Luana Velis and Jan Bluthardt headline the small roster as Luz and Dr. Rossini. Their thorough commitment to getting as weird as their director wishes keeps the tone disorienting as much as the music and cinematography. Bluthardt unflinchingly disrobes into full nudity twice while donning women’s wear in between. Velis vacillates between enigmatic endearment and macabre mystery to create an intriguing personality without the benefit of substantive writing backing up her characterization. These actors are completely comfortable exploring the off-kilter theater “Luz” constructs for taking off traditional tethers.
I’m not fooling anyone into thinking this “review” is more than a mere breakdown of the movie’s pieces without deep critical analysis. But “Luz” isn’t fooling me into applying in-depth insight to a willful elevation of smoky style over carefully orchestrated scripting. My 50/100 rating purposefully erects a fence to reflect the divide between viewers who will find “Luz” creepily captivating from those who just find it tediously taxing.
One thing is certain. Tilman Singer has a talent for tapping into peculiar performances through determined direction. In addition to the aforementioned awards, “Luz” earned Singer a contract with professional representation, as his unusual approach to moviemaking is no doubt in demand. Perhaps Singer’s next outing will apply his artistic eye to something with a cohesive focus geared for greater mainstream potential. For the moment, “Luz” purely means to make its case with arthouse aficionados only.
Review Score: 50