This isn't the first time that French novelist and filmmaker Christophe Honoré attempts to update a classic piece of writing for modern days. But his take on Ovid's epic of mythology and love Metamorphoses is nowhere near as successful as his 2008 version of Madame de Lafayette's epistolary novel La Princesse de Clèves - for my money, that film, La Belle personne, remains Mr. Honoré's best work so far by a mile, whereas Metamorphoses is a wasteful misfire.
It's nice to see the flop of his 2011 Demy homage Beloved hasn't curtailed his artistic ambitions, but neither does it seem to have taught him any lessons; if anything, the new film is as sprawling and episodic as its predecessor, and its tone as sharply misjudged. In effect another tale of the causes, effects and consequences of love, Metamorphoses never truly holds together as a film, with Mr. Honoré unable to give Ovid's tales the light, ethereal touch they need to make sense transposed to modern days.
In this version, the 15 books of mythical stories are reduced to a handful of tales as witnessed by or told by others to Europa (Amira Akili), a sulky, unhappy teenage taken away by the dashing Jupiter (Sébastien Harel). Jupiter first appears as a truck driver to take her with him to a magical reality just underlying our own, and he's the first of three storytellers she follows (the remainder are Damien Chapelle's passive-agressive Bacchus and George Babluani's possessed Orpheus).
Thus the film becomes a "greatest hits" album of the book's tales set in and around contemporary French locations, given the occasionally witty, spot-on twist (Narcissus as a self-possessed skater), aiming at a sort of hipster pastoral midway between the 1970s' "free love" psychedelia and contemporary post-modernism. Reminding immensely of Pasolini, it's a work too poseur and superficial to reach the Italian filmmaker's pagan energy. Mr. Honoré's film comes off more as a sort of half-baked idea that seems to have never been properly thought out, which is pretty surprising for a director who began his career as a novelist.
André Chemetoff's lovely widescreen lensing and the spot-on modern Romantic quotes on the soundtrack (Debussy, Ravel, Webern and so on) aren't nearly enough to make up for Metamorphoses' gauche, naïf attempts at magical realism and the director's tendency to over-signify everything. It's a film in need of a lightness of touch that Mr. Honoré has proved to own in the past but that seems to have been misplaced somewhere he can't find.
Cast: Amira Akili, Sébastien Hirel, Mélodie Richard, Damien Chapelle, George Babluani
Director/writer: Christophe Honoré; based on the poem Metamorphoses by Ovid; cinematographer André Chemetoff (widescreen); designer Samuel Deshors; costumes Pascaline Chavanne; editor Chantal Hymans; producer Philippe Martin, Films Pelléas in co-production with France 3 Cinéma and Le Pacte
Screened: August 21st 2015, Lisbon, distributor screener