“The Falling Star” (“L’étoile filante”)


Screened at the 2024 Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago European Union Film Festival (1.5/5); Letterboxd (1.5/5), Imdb.com (3/10), TMDB.com (1.5/5)

It’s always frustrating to walk out of a movie and ask yourself afterward, “What did I just watch?” That was my reaction to this scattered, unfocused offering from the writing-directing duo of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, and that’s unfortunate given that this release has some definite strengths in its corner. This tale tells the story of a radical activist (Abel) who’s been on the run since 1986 and has been laying low of late by working as a bartender in a corner dive known as The Falling Star. However, when he’s approached by a mysterious stranger with a malfunctioning prosthetic arm (Bruno Romy) in search of revenge, he must go back into hiding, although this time he does so by putting up an unwitting, easily manipulated lookalike double (also Abel) in his place. It’s an all-too-familiar narrative in which audiences are bound to know in advance that things are going to go very wrong when the plan is implemented. In this case, though, viewers are unlikely to figure out just how wrong they’ll go – and it has nothing to do with the nature of carefully crafted humorous incidents designed to evoke hearty laughs. Rather, the woefully errant plotline unfolds with a series of disjointed, unrelated bits that rarely work and seldom connect. The picture truly plays like a work that was made up by its creators as they went along, taking a pile of comic possibilities and throwing them all at the wall to see what sticks. There’s an especially heavy reliance on slapstick, some of which is admittedly inspired but most of which plays like the dysfunctional routines Woody Allen tried to pull off in some of his early films. And, the further one gets into the story, the more it comes across like a protracted improv exercise, including everything from music video-style dance routines to surreal flashbacks to embarrassingly rampant silliness. There are also some lame attempts at incorporating social commentary, which largely comes out of left field and has only a tangential nexus to the principal story thread. As noted earlier, all of this is regrettable, too, considering the elements that the film does have going for it – a modestly interesting, potential-filled premise, an exquisite production design, a deftly chosen soundtrack and an overall stylish look, especially in the cinematography. However, the filmmakers don’t know how to harness these attributes and fashion them into a cohesive, attention-holding story. The closer this one got to the end, the more I couldn’t wait for it to be over, despite its comparatively short 1:38:00 runtime. Indeed, there are plenty of falling stars in this cinematic disaster, but I have to wonder how many of them were planned by its makers.