LUZ is a deeply strange movie. It has an arthouse heartbeat with a flair for the Lynchian. I’ll admit, I was completely baffled on the first watch. LUZ embodies the awkward, uncomfortable staginess of a movie like After Last Season. Character interactions have a stilted robotic quality to them not unlike The Room. Both After Last Season and The Room are so-bad-they’re-good movies, but although LUZ bears striking similarities, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. LUZ is uniquely weird, reveling in its absence of rules and its lack of desire to conform to typical filming styles without ever fully embracing its absurdism.
The film is directed by Tilman Singer, who has previously directed two short films, El Fin Del Mundo and The Events at Mr. Yamamoto’s Alpine Residence. At 70 minutes, LUZ is barely a feature—Singer refers to it instead as a “long short.” The film was originally created as a graduate thesis project.
The cast is comprised of Luana Velis (Diebe des Schlafes), Johannes Benecke (Hit Mom: Mörderische Weihnachten), Jan Bluthardt (Tatort), Nadja Stübiger (Tatort), Lilli Lorenz (Romeos), and Julia Riedler (Bauhaus).
LUZ begins with the title character, a baseball cap wearing taxi driver, walking slowly into a police station. In the roughly three-minute long opening shot, Luz buys and consumes a beverage from a vending machine, and then begins to berate the receptionist. “Is this how you wanna live your life? Is this seriously what you want?” Luz shouts in the opening lines of the film.
At the same time, police psychiatrist/hypnotherapist Dr. Rossini encounters Nora at a bar. She tells him about herself, ending on a harrowing note—her girlfriend just jumped out a moving taxi. After several rounds of drinks and some drugs, Nora possesses Dr. Rossini in a bathroom. The possessed, inebriated doctor then makes his way to the police station to hypnotize and interrogate Luz.
The story only grows stranger from there, taking place mainly in a large boardroom full of chairs. Five chairs are arranged like a taxi, with a hypnotized Luz playing herself as a taxi driver and Dr. Rossini playing Nora, Luz’s passenger.
The resulting look of this portion of the movie is straight out of an early audition or read-through. This is a shame because the movie is filmed on 16mm, giving it that nice grainy look. Held in a police station, there are never any other officers or other workers around, making the setting feel eery and isolated, like a fever dream. Luz pretends to drive her taxi, miming opening the door or turning on the radio. She is equipped only with her chairs and a rearview mirror as props, which Velis gives her best effort to utilize. It’s quite silly, and the longer I watched, the greater my despair became as I realized the audience was never going to see the vivid world that Luz was seeing in her hypnotized state.
Sometimes the audience hears what Luz is imagining in her hypnotized state, such as a busy road with beeping cars. We sometimes see the people she’s talking to, but not always. The room occasionally fills with fog. The lack of concrete rules leaves ample room for cinematic exploration, but the story remains stubbornly in the boardroom.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of incompleteness to the project. One can wonder if this is a commentary about workplaces or the police, but there’s little to glean about the world outside the police station. Catholicism, gender roles, and levels of consciousness are other potential themes that LUZ raises, but it has little to reveal about any of them. The film is so stripped down that it can be hard to understand even on a metaphorical level what it all means.
LUZ often feels more like a single-set play than a film. It’s unavoidable to think about this as a film that is underdone and with the occasional continuity error, sometimes clumsy, not fully realized. Characters act stiffly, often walking to their marks and stolidly delivering their lines. It’s confusing, slow, and not especially pretty to look at. I’ve watched it four times now, trying to wrest some kind of larger meaning from the film, but throughout it all, LUZ remains unremarkable. At it’s best, LUZ is an ultra-minimalist possession drama that may entertain those who are looking for something offbeat. But for most viewers, trying to bring beauty and meaning out of lackluster scenes will feel futile.
LUZ opens theatrically in New York (IFC Center, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema City Point, Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Monica, Laemmle Glendale) on Friday, July 19 with a national release to follow. For more on LUZ, check out Shannon’s interview with director Tilman Singer here.