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by Jessica Hausner

grade: 7

Club Zero is a mercilessly sincere feature film, extremely rigorous in its mise-en-scene, which finds its ideal mood in a sharp irony. The image of society depicted here has the sharp, vivid colours of a world in which no half-measures are allowed. Just like in the cinema of Hausner, who has been minutely analysing every single aspect of this very world for years now. In competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2023.

We are what we (don’t) eat

Great expectations at the 76th Cannes Film Festival for Club Zero, the newest film by acclaimed director Jessica Hausner, this year in the running for the coveted Palme d’Or. Yes, because, in fact, the Viennese filmmaker is now a regular in Cannes, where she has presented the world premiere of practically all her most recent films. So while just four years ago, in Little Joe (for which the protagonist Emily Beecham was awarded Best Actress) we wondered what would become of society if we were able to find a way to finally be happy forever, in Club Zero a scrupulous and merciless social analysis is carried out, as topical as it is satirical and disenchanted.

Everything begins, then, in a prestigious private high school. Miss Novak (played by Mia Wasikowska), a young and dynamic teacher who has just been hired, is in charge of teaching the students how to eat properly in order to protect the environment and their own health. Elsa, Ragna, Fred and Ben, four students from the school, start attending her class, each driven by different motivations. While some of them are immediately engaged by what they are taught, others are initially more wary. Gradually, however, things will take an increasingly extreme and dangerous turn.

“Sooner or later we will convince everyone that what we claim is true and that there is no need for any scientific proof”. How many times, especially in recent years, have we heard such statements? Jessica Hausner seized the opportunity and wanted to have her say with Club Zero, attacking any extreme fanaticism. Just as she had done in 2009, focusing exclusively on religious fanaticism, in Lourdes. In this newest feature film of hers, however, the discourse becomes much broader and comes to life through the always appropriate metaphor of food.

The young protagonists are all promising and talented, yet, as we know, theirs is not an easy age and the fear of inadequacy is always just around the corner. In their world – so apparently hopeful and vibrant – yellow and green prevail prophetically (and once again the masterful touch of cameraman Martin Gschlacht has hit the mark). Yellow and green. Sickness and death (in whatever sense you want to consider them). Sickness of body and soul, death of any independent thinking. If we do not have someone willing to guide us, we feel lost and no longer know who we are. The music, essential but powerful, speaks volumes. And when the entire group is about to meditate, or when the students, in the cafeteria, make their way to the tables with trays in hand, it almost takes on the connotations of a funeral march.

If we do not embrace a (preferably extreme and dangerously controversial) cause, we could never be accepted. And we would inevitably end up alone. And isn’t that what the society we live in has become? While the students initially appear to us to be insecure about their life path, Miss Novak, on the other hand, immediately comes across as determined and charismatic, admired by all as we see her, in slow motion, as she is about to leave the school. Yet she too is, fundamentally, a lonely woman, who has found in her students her only true friends. “If I can no longer be Miss Novak, who will I be?” The weakness of her theories is only attacked by the “adults” the moment they start talking about a possible sex scandal. Regardless of what had already been going on for some time.

Club Zero is, in this respect, a mercilessly sincere feature film, rigorous in its perfect mise-en-scene, which sees its ideal mood in a sharp irony. Jessica Hausner knows exactly what she wants to achieve. And she does so in a brutal, direct manner, even if, in this case, especially as we approach the end, at times excessively iterative. In any case, the image of society depicted here has the sharp, vivid colours of a world in which no half-measures are allowed. Just like in the cinema of Hausner, who for years now has been minutely analysing every single aspect of this very world.

Original title: Club Zero
Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Country/year: Austria, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark / 2023
Running time: 110’
Genre: drama, thriller, satirical
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Sam Hoare, Amanda Lawrence, Elsa Zylberstein, Amir El-Masry, Camilla Rutherford, Keeley Forsyth, Mathieu Demy, Florence Baker, Szandra Asztalos, Isabel Lamers, Mike Ray, Lukas Turtur, Gwen Currant, Ksenia Devriendt, Luke Barker, Rebecca Crankshaw, Sade McNichols-Thomas, Laoisha O’Callaghan, Samuel D Anderson
Screenplay: Jessica Hausner, Géraldine Bajard
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: Coop99 Filmproduktion, Coproduction Office, Arte

Info: the page of Club Zero on iMDb; the page of Club Zero on the website of the Cannes Film Festival; the page of Club Zero on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of Club Zero on the website of the Österreichisches Filminstitut; the review of Club Zero on