“Planetarium” is at least three features in one — a supernatural story, a Holocaust drama and a snapshot of the French film industry in the years leading up to World War II — yet it’s missing some of the connective tissue that would make those movies fit together. It’s unusual to see such excellence in costumes, sets and cinematography lavished on this degree of narrative muddle.
Written by the director, Rebecca Zlotowski, and Robin Campillo — of “The Class” and “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” a recent Cannes prizewinner — this film, mostly set in the 1930s, stars Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp as Laura and Kate Barlow, a spiritualist sister act from the United States. On the Paris stop of their European tour, they give a private séance to a film producer, André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger). As Laura notices, his accent suggests he isn’t from France originally. (Ms. Portman speaks many of her lines in what sounds like credible French.)
André becomes eager to film the mediums at work, with the hope of recording evidence of a spectral presence. (And to paraphrase a professor in the film, cinema — even without actual wraiths — is an invention that captures the ghosts of the future.) André also offers the sisters residence in his home, in an arrangement fraught with class tension.
But much of what happens next — romance, illness — seems arbitrary, as characters come and go without proper introductions. Tidiness isn’t crucial, but watching “Planetarium” often feels like making contact with fragments of a great three-hour movie.
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