Berlinale 2022 review: Coma (Bertrand Bonello)

Coma is a neo-Lynchian slow burn masterpiece that will wow those willing to embark on its tumultuous journey.”

Take your time. Do not surrender to the current mood.

Following Céline Sciamma with Petite Maman last year, which played in competition at the Berlinale and unjustly went home empty-handed, Bertrand Bonello’s new opus Coma operates like a somewhat distorted mirror to the French female director’s work, Sciamma’s film offering a simple albeit devastating declaration of love from a daughter to her mother, while Bonello’s work is a filmic love declaration from a father (the director himself) to his daughter Anna, played by a revelatory Louise Labeque. Both seemed to be minor projects on paper, but end up delivering beyond expectations. More than just another lockdown movie on what a father fears for his daughter in this tormented COVID era, Coma is a flamboyant testimony to the right to dream, no matter what, in our current world. What initially started as just a small project during lockdown prior to embarking on his long-time project The Beast with Léa Seydoux and Gaspard Ulliel turned out to be Bonello’s most personal and intimate film yet. God knows what will happen with The Beast now that Gaspard tragically passed away; the hurt is still immense.

The film oscillates between heterogeneous moods and modes, be they aesthetic, formal or thematic, but nonetheless achieves the miracle of being constantly captivating whilst maintaining its through line of love, fear of our current times, and the question of determinism. Its numerous dream sequences in a hostile forest abound with eerie flashes which are at times reminiscent of Inland Empire or Philippe Grandrieux’s somber Despite the Night. Mixing Robert Spahalski’s confessions with Zoom sessions on serial killer stories of six young girls and Gilles Deleuze’s 1987 conference at La Fémis where he claimed that one should never get caught in another’s dream; combining excerpts of Henri-George Clouzot’s L’Enfer starring Romy Schneider with a game called The Revelator that “is proving to you that you don’t control your choices”, a direct reference to the ’80s cult game Simon the Sorcerer; and having, last but not least, the luminous Louise Labeque dancing to Andrea Laszlo De Simone’s “Solo un uomo“, the film is a never-ending firework that glues the spectator to his or her seat.

Despite the blatant emotional heaviness of the narrative, the film is not devoid of moments of unbridled comedy, reaching its climax with sequences in which dolls act out scenes between sitcom characters Sharon (Laetitia Casta) and Scott (the late Gaspard Ulliel, whose smooth voice cannot but break our hearts), with the latter pretending to be Donald Trump trying to make friends with Kim Jong-Un and saying, “The nuclear button is on his desk but can someone in his feeble regime tell him my button is bigger, more powerful, and it works?

It cannot be stressed enough what a treasure of an actress the underrated Julia Faure is in the cosmos of contemporary French cinema. She brings warmth, sensuousness and iconoclasm to an emotional rollercoaster of a story that needed her like champagne needs bubbles (her tutorials on the “Crudimix” are pure genius). She is the guiding figure of the film, enabling the young girl (Labeque) to get a better perception of today’s world. Those Patricia Coma Tuto channel scenes are already iconic.

Coma is a neo-Lynchian slow burn masterpiece that will wow those willing to embark on its tumultuous journey with its mise en abymes and epiphanies of visual ecstasy. It’s a near impossible patchwork film to grasp at first sight and will require multiple viewings undoubtedly, but it should obtain cult status over time. Coma’s final ten minutes are already in my all-time pantheon of best finales ever, echoing the finale of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life ten years later with melancholy and despair.