Euronews Culture's Film of the Week: 'Pendant ce temps sur Terre' ('Meanwhile on Earth')

Film of the Week: Pendant ce temps sur Terre (Meanwhile on Earth)
Film of the Week: Pendant ce temps sur Terre (Meanwhile on Earth) Copyright Diaphana
Copyright Diaphana
By David Mouriquand
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Close Encounters of the Trading Kind.


After his inventive and rather wonderful animated film J’ai perdu mon corps (I Lost My Body), French filmmaker Jérémy Clapin returns with a live action sci-fi feature for his sophomore effort. And he’s still got loss on his mind.

While a hand was looking for its body in his first feature, Pendant ce temps sur Terre (Meanwhile on Earth) revolves around another absence – that of Elsa's brother, Franck.

The two siblings (Les passagers de la nuit ’s Megan Northam and Sam Louwyck) were close, and nothing was ever the same after the eldest mysteriously disappeared during a space mission three years ago. Elsa has struggled to move on with her life; she has denied herself the chance of realising her dreams and ambitions (namely attending the Beaux-Arts School in Paris, as she’s quite the gifted artist), and frequently tags a monument to her brother as a sign of protest and remembrance.

Dealing with both the emptiness of outer space and the one she feels on Earth, the hollowness of a life crippled by grief sees Elsa search for a sign from her brother. And that's when the theme embraces a further dimension: Can a void be filled by a sacrifice which would require losing one’s sense of humanity?

The question arises when she hears her brother’s voice one night, as an interference near an antenna transposes Elsa into some sort of parallel dimension. There, her brother calls for help.

“They’re saying that there’s a way, and that it all depends on you."

That ominous statement gets an explanation when Elsa is subsequently contacted by an unidentified alien lifeform, through a seed she places in her ear. They’ve got her brother, who drifted off course in his mission. They put an offer on the table: Save your brother, but pay a hefty price.

Nothing shall be spoiled here, but it involves an ethical conundrum that will put Elsa’s very sense of humaneness to the test.

Pendant ce temps sur Terre
Pendant ce temps sur TerreDiaphana

Clapin’s high-concept drama is matched by an ingenious mix of live-action and some animated sequences (which are very reminiscent of Leiji Matsumoto’s craft) that works wonders, and reveals that the director has lost none of the poetic flair he displayed in his first film.

For a great deal of the runtime, Clapin orchestrates a sensitive and entrancing movie that is elevated by Belgian DP Robrecht Heyvaert’s arresting imagery, as well as some crisp sound design from Vincent Piponnier and Dan Levy’s fantastic score. The director also shrewdly elects to never show the extraterrestrial lifeform, a decision which heightens the niggling sensation that Elsa might be in the midst of a breakdown.

Is this depression taking its stranglehold to the next level by making her hallucinate a scenario by which she could get back the one person that gave her life a sense of completion? Or has first contact truly been made?

Pendant ce temps sur Terre
Pendant ce temps sur TerreDiaphana

Where the wheels start to come off is when the sleek narrative and execution swerve into some tonal changes that feel grating.

The promising Invasion of the Body Snatchers by way of Cocteau’s Orphée set-up is undercut by genre elements which either don’t belong or aren’t embraced to their full potential. Some gore and body horror segments do hit their mark, but are abandoned too flippantly, leaving the story to bizarrely limp towards a less convincing third act. And while the finale doesn’t betray the central theme of loss and how one comes to term with the inevitability of death, it arrives at an uninspired final destination which may disappoint considering the promising set-up.

That said, the performances are strong throughout; the technical side is irreproachable; and while the narrative needed to unfold in a way that could have done justice to its emotionally resonant concept, the end result still manages to make Meanwhile on Earth an endearing contemplation on how the price of loss is not one we’re always prepared for. 

The wrestle with grief might just be the Earthly price you pay for love.

Pendant ce temps sur Terre (Meanwhile on Earth) is out now in French cinemas and select European cinemas.

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