Luz might be a little short on plot, but it’s a wonderful blend of striking, sometimes gorgeous, imagery and wonderful sound design. Why not, right? Too many films lean too heavily on the script anyway. All this is to say that audiences who need a conventionally structured plot are probably not going to dig this movie very much. But for those of us who are interested in visuals and sound as ends unto themselves will probably dig this one a lot.
From the opening credits, we know we’re in a very singular vision of reality. Luz was writer / director Tilman Singer’s art school thesis project, and it’s clear he set out to make a big impression with this first feature of his. Some film school graduates use their thesis projects as a sort of “calling card,” but for Singer, Luz marks the beginning of what’s hopefully a long career.
Filmed in gorgeous 16mm with a keen eye toward shot composition, Luz is all about mood. Nearly the entire film takes place indoors, in dark rooms lit with harsh fluorescent lights. It’s all blues and greys and whites that are sometimes so powerful they’re hard to look at. The result is a little over an hour spent in various levels of discomfort. It all looks like our world, but skewed, a reflection in a funhouse mirror.
The story, such as it is, concerns our titular character, Luz (Luana Velis). A demon has taken possession of her old Catholic school friend Nora (Julia Riedler), and now it’s coming to find her. Because unfortunately for Luz, the demon is in love with her. This is about the best I can do to summarize what happens, because things start to get totally unhinged toward the halfway point. The story is quite vague in its specifics and there’s a lot of questions that go unanswered. But, indeed, some questions will always remain without answers.
Thematically, the film explores hypnosis and somnambulism in a way that I found very engaging. Perhaps the most interesting exploration of this theme comes in a scene in a dark bar as the demon-possessed Nora lulls a psychologist named Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) into a strange sort of trance simply by telling him a story about herself and Luz that takes place when they were in high school. The story itself is about a kind of trance: Luz convinces Nora that she’s pregnant and the two of them engage in a dark ritual in order to get rid of the “baby.” Rossini is at first uninterested in Nora’s story, instead preferring to drink alone and wallow in his sadness. As one does in a dive bar, of course. But the story Nora tells is so strange and chaotic, and Nora tells the story in such a quiet, seductive, manner that eventually Rossini can’t help but devote his complete attention to it.
The entire second half of the film, an interrogation of Luz in the police station by Rossini, is one long scene of hypnotism, trance, and demonic possession. I find the idea of losing control of my body horrifying, and of course I like a good Cronenberg movie every now and then, so the last thirty minutes were absolutely riveting. Whether it’s being controlled by the kind of hypnotism that only seems to exist in the movies, or by some otherworldly demon, the personality is completely subject to the whims of another entity. This feels to me nearly as helpless a situation as being buried alive. The loss of control over one’s body is a primal human fear, and for good reason. The final thirty minutes of Luz explores this in a very affecting, abstract way. It’s appropriate, then, that the audience itself might find itself going into a kind of trance when watching the film, considering the subject matter.
With just a bit of extra patience, Luz will reward you with a unique hallucinatory experience. It’s a journey through sight, sound, and psychology that you’re not likely to forget.