Pierre Huyghe's new film has been causing a stir in the French art scene, with fellow artists, fans, and even students on field trips descending into the pitch-black basement of Marian Goodman's Marais space to experience "The Host and the Cloud." Filmed in a closed-down museum at the edge of urban Paris over the course of three days — Halloween, Valentine's Day, and the May 1st International Workers' Day — the film is less a love-it-or-hate-it affair than a two-hour endurance test composed of a cacophonous runway show with a model on an invisible catwalk, a profusion of white rabbits, and, most strenuously, a red-tinted disco scene with an unrelenting version of Kate Bush's shrill "Wuthering Heights" playing normally at first, then in reverse.
Sometimes openly philosophical but most often cryptic and vague, the film opens on a Jack-o'-lantern-carving factory, with would-be pumpkin scientists dressed in Halloween costumes. Death is the janitor — he has the Windex. Cue an unidentified cast wearing identical triangular LED masks, dogs barking and playing, a trial of the supposedly banned terrorist group Action Directe, and ditto a man accused of raping an avatar in the virtual world, a nod to an incident in Second Life. The action occurs in two speeds, either cutting quickly between scenes or slowing to a crawl reminiscent of the dreamlike pacing of "Donnie Darko" (notably in a scene where a CGI rabbit, a recurring character, sits in a cinema).
Cinematic references abound in the stylish HD shots, with enough red velvet drapery to fill a handful of David Lynch movies. Form-wise, "The Host and the Cloud" nevertheless borrows more from David Cronenberg's early films, "Stereo" and "Crimes of the Future," which also imagined a politically and socially unsettled (and odd) present and future. But whereas Cronenberg brought a certain coherence to the intriguingly incomprehensible, Huyghe's film loses its narrative thread, and exhaustion prevails by the time it climbs its orgiastic crescendo. The trope of the disused museum and the unscripted reactions of the partially directed actors add little sense to the work, and as the screen turns black and the final line, an urgent "Save them!" is spoken, there is little energy left to reflect on who "them" could be.