“Mouths are gateways to the soul”
Christophe Honoré’s Metamorphoses (2014) is an ambitious project aiming to transform the massive and multifaceted magnum opus of the Roman poet Ovid (comprised of almost 12,000 lines) into a sequence of independent stories, all bound together in a teen film rediscovering love, sex, and death. The French writer and director, known for his musical Love Songs (French: Les Chansons d’amour, 2007), takes on the challenge of a modern, hip retelling of Ovid’s Roman iteration of ancient Greek myths, in which humans and gods coexist.
Young Europe (Amira Akili) meets a truck driver called Jupiter (Sébastien Hirel) in front of her school. He invites her on a journey to a mythical place, where immortal gods transform the lives of innocent mortals in the most unexpected ways. Following him, Europa meets his friends Bacchus (Damien Chapelle) and Orpheus (George Babluani), and listens to many other stories, in which humans are turned into animals and plants – and the world of the living merges with the shadows of the dead.
In a series of interconnecting stories, and several flashbacks that one will have a hard time following due to the film’s heavy reliance on the intricacies of Greek mythology, the film pays homage to art made for the sake of art. Despite its pompous atmosphere, the cinematography, music and certain scenes will stay with you, even though the general feeling that something is amiss will never quite dissipate. Juno’s (Mélodie Richard) fury, Narcissus’ (Arthur Jacquin) disastrous fate, and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice shot under water are absolutely mesmerising. Another merit is the sexual fluidity portrayed in a very naturalistic way, especially in the case of the transgender transformation story of blind prophet Tiresias.
Though there is nothing original about the overall plot, Honoré’s intention is to reimagine the human need for the mind and the soul to exist beyond an established form in the 21st century. Water remains the basic symbol of change throughout the film, while nude and overt sex scenes intensify the moments of violence, regret and punishment. With an ageless concept that has attracted much thought throughout the centuries, the French director shows, in an often over-the-top way, how Europe’s human nature revisits those ancient myths to understand the mysteries of life.
Diving into the world of Metamorphoses is an art experiment open to interpretation – it is up to the audience to weigh its value.
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