BIFF 2015: Queen of Earth

Bergen International Film Festival 2015: 

Elizabeth Moss’s performance in the opening scene of Queen of Earth gives new meaning to the word spellbinding. Director Alex Ross Perry gets up-close and personal, keeping Moss’s Catherine locked in frame as her face is contorted by tears and abject despair.

Having just recently lost her father and gone through a painful breakup, Catherine, with her good friend, Virginia (Katherine Waterston) retreats to a lake house to recalibrate and get back on her feet. As the week goes on, however, Catherine continues to unravel, falling deeper and deeper into psychosis.

It is an uncomfortable and feverish observation on the inherent complexities of depression and psychosis. Like his previous movie, Listen Up Phillip, Alex Ross Perry uses his resources and capabilities to their full extent; allowing the Super 16mm camera to not only enrich the movie with a nostalgic beauty, but compliment the story and characters depicted on scene. As Catherine continues to deteriorate into the darkest corners of her mind, so does the camera begin to play with new tricks, at times heavily inspired by Polanski – a late crowded scene in particular.

While Ross Perry has explicitly mentioned Polanski as a source of inspiration in a few interviews, there is also a Hanekeian feel to its first act; the juxtaposition of Catherine’s mental state and the scenic beauty, captured with slow and long delicate takes. Ross Perry uses these inspirations – if Michael Haneke can be said to be one – with care, never allowing it to become a pastiche.

It is not every day you see a movie handle depression and deeply troubled psychosis as well as in Queen of Earth. Most movies fail to convey the complexities and intricacies of it all, and even fewer manages to depict the horrid emotional oscillation endured by the people who suffer from it. Elizabeth Moss’s performance does it all. It is painfully authentic, to the extent that it’s as scary as it is sad. I can only point to one other movie that has done it as well – albeit different in tone and presentation – Joachim Trier’s, Oslo, August 31st.

Queen of Earth is a dark tale about the fragility of the human mind; touching on the deep-rooted irrationalities of it all, the dangers of codependency and more. Elizabeth Moss has fairly recently finished eight years as Peggy Olson on Mad Men, and had you told me a year ago – or, even post-The Other Ones/Listen Up Phillip – that she’d break free from her role, while still keeping the same sensibility, I’d never have believed you, but she has. Elizabeth Moss may, almost indisputably, have given the best performance of 2015 already.

Per Morten Mjolkeraaen

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