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An imaginative insight into an 18-year-old’s mind, Bertrand Bonello’s Berlin Film Festival Encounters strand entry Coma comes with a preface: it’s dedicated to his teenage daughter. It aims to both…
, who died tragically earlier this year. Bonello’s introductory comments about loss feel particularly poignant after the death of his
Louise Labeque is an engaging lead as “the teenager,” who’s shut in her bedroom with only the internet and her mind — both of which will go on to play tricks on her. She has nightmares about being lost in a forest, she imagines a dark soap opera starring Barbie-type dolls, and she has a disturbing, surreal Zoom call with her friends in which they discuss the attractions of various serial killers throughout history. A glamorous YouTube star called Patricia Coma (Julia Faure) periodically enters the frame to give advice that appears inane, but may hold a hidden message. Louis Garrel voices a psychiatrist who veers between helpful and patronizing. Traditional live-action mixes with many visual approaches including 3D animation, archival footage and online videos.
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It’s a willful jumble of ideas and styles that gives the impression of an anxious mind. While the protagonist may be a teenager, this is a concept many ages could relate to after the past few years.
She worries about the environment and global warming, she frets about the possibility of a romantic break-up, her mind goes into overdrive when a friend fails to return her calls. Has she been attacked by a serial killer? This reflects the dangerous and contradictory places the mind goes to in the dark.
The vignettes often feel more like visualized anxiety than dreams, but they are certainly intriguing, especially when touching on recent history: doll Scott (Ulliel) starts off in an argument with his girlfriend about another woman, but shifts to spouting the words of Donald Trump, as seen on Twitter. Climate change denial is a major concern, along with the prospect of sexual violence, infidelity, and the lack of liberty. A siren sounds, marking the curfew that was in place in France, as the teen complains about the freedom her generation has been so cruelly denied.
Bonello calls this film a “little gesture,” and in many ways it feels like an intimate story. But its wider resonance makes it a topical and quietly thought-provoking watch.
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