BFI London Film Festival: ‘Neptune Frost’ Review

BFI’s London Film Festival is in town! The FilmSoc Blog is back for the 65th edition of the city’s largest film festival, delivering a look at the hits and misses of the 2021-22 season.

Milo Garner reviews a sci-fi musical following the lives of an intersex hacker and a coltan miner.

This is a film born of faith. The collective staff of the ICA formed a circle, held hands, and tweeted all at once. This film is the excretion of that digito-sematic psycho-spiritual late/post-capitalist prayer. It is everything they would ever want. Because despite obvious aesthetic ambition, Neptune Frost is a film of almost solely didactic character. It is a film that yanks the dewlaps of whatever beast trots by, and lets it know: resource inequality; imperio-capitalist hegemonies; emergent digital hierarchies: these are the devils of today. And in case it is not yet evident, we will arrange a circle of characters who can reiterate (as often as necessary) the nature and function of this Babylon. I am reminded not only of vast swathes of European intellectual cinema, but also of a poet who does not trust his verses. A poet who must layer, between lines, a prosaic description of his metaphor. A poet who shifts ever so often into the grimmest depths of manifesto; here we experience a Spike Lee peroration made feature-length.

The greatest shame in this cannibalism of the self is the quality of the premise. This sense of African coltan deposits themselves becoming a continental computer – capable of disrupting imperial design, capable of realigning the global axis – is fat with potential. This then melded to a Matrix-like determination to integrate man and machine; to see in this new digitization, not a separate, artificial granary of code, but rather an extension of man’s perceptual kingdom. Only the Matrix trilogy laboured the same idea without ever losing faith in its own extended metaphor; it does not break ranks; it does not feel the need to educate its audience on the literal application of its ideas. One can detect, instead, a political rationale in Neptune Frost: ideas are clearly stated so as to serve as direct ideological apparatus. Spoon-feed the people! Only this suggestion is made absurd by the nature of the film itself. As a piece of dramaturgy, it is often desperately bad – especially the first act – and in any case, it is of that particular textural character so as to attract only an audience who are, in the large, already completely aware of and sympathetic toward the ideas here promulgated. We must wonder whether celebrants of this film are all, in their small way, condescending to a supposed ‘other’ audience who will go into this film not knowing its message, and leave it convinced.

At least Spike Lee’s films generally fulfill an entertainment quota that might provide them a legitimate platform; and it is without question that enormous aesthetic quality – in a conventionally acceptable idiom – that allowed the Matrix films to fundamentally disturb the mainstream view of perceived reality. Much like the cinema of the Straubs, this is a film to be enjoyed and acclaimed by a small coterie of critics and intellectuals who are all in general agreement of its principles. So why limit the piece to such simple, surface reflections? I sense this is a film that will be triumphed for all the things it will say to all those who will never watch it.

You can watch the trailer for Neptune Frost here:

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