Moonlight Movie Review

When we first meet Claire, a privileged teenager growing up in her parents' opulent home, she is in shock. She's been carefully practicing piano in an immaculate room when she experiences the initial drops of her first menstrual cycle. Frightened, she retreats to the family shed, where more shock awaits. A young, orphaned drug courier has been hiding out there, left for dead with a gunshot to the belly.

With no common language, these two connect instantly -- perhaps it's the blood -- and embark on an emotionally wrenching journey in this visually appealing, occasionally heavy-handed thriller from Paula van der Oest (Dutch director of the Oscar-nominated Zus & Zo).

With minimal dialogue and an aesthetic that Luc Besson would appreciate, van der Oest creates a bizarre relationship study, throwing her two young characters into a wickedly spinning centrifuge with a glimmer of reality at its center. As Moonlight progresses, the world whips by increasingly faster as van der Oest hurls her symbolic characters toward a horrible fantasy finale.

As Claire and her young nameless friend slide deeper into their murky surreal hell, van der Oest tries too hard to make Moonlight a raw artistic curiosity. With plenty of blood, feces, violence, and oddball imagery, this film is not for the faint of heart.

As a result, viewers will delve into this adolescent nightmare at varying degrees. Van der Oest is a strong intuitive director, involving her audience with a deft mix of offbeat scenarios and painful heartbreak, but her methods may be questionable and her efforts head toward over-the-top territory. It's tough to tell whether van der Oest and screenwriter Carel Donck felt their content was appropriate for the subject matter, or if they were just choosing the edgy thing to do.

The same questions that arose regarding children actors in the Larry Clark shocker Kids would also surface here if not for two major exceptions. The first is young actress Laurien Van den Broeck, whose transformation from quiet daughter to reckless wild child is nothing short of stunning. Her acting is filled with such primal force and maturity that it's tough to imagine her being coerced into any level of performance (but who knows...). Her rampage of intensity is only sidetracked by her director's overuse of it.

The second reason that questions of exploitation won't arise is because this film will never get released theatrically in the U.S. The general public (not to mention the MPAA) will find the film needlessly manipulative, simply offensive, and downright gross. They'd be right, especially when using a child to drive such action is considered strictly taboo in this country.

Should it be? Child actors (even teen actors) are usually more mentally and emotionally advanced than their peers, but who's to judge the level of "too much"? In my opinion, Paula van der Oest's fault lie not in the use of her phenomenal young leads; her problem is that she ratchets up the power of a poignant concept to the point of diluting it.

Reviewed at the 2004 Independent Film Festival of Boston.

Moonlight sonata.


Comments

Moonlight Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2002

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