The Strange Dreams Of Hypnos And Venus
Apr 19, 2023
Alexandre David Lejuez
Alexandre David Lejuez
Dante Fournarel, Eva Langlet
You know, I really enjoy University Challenge. I watch it every week and think that it's the best quiz show on television. The reason that it's really good (apart from the dry sarcasm of Jeremy Paxman, of course) is that it's super difficult and you have to have an intense knowledge of a wide and varied number of subjects if you're going to stand any chance of answering the questions with any sort of frequency or accuracy. I usually manage to get one question right each episode, even before the plucky youngsters with their enormous intellect buzz in to tell Jeremy what they know, and sometimes I can even bump up my score by shouting out a random artist's name at the TV when a painting is flashed up on screen during the picture round, or by similarly shouting out the name of a random composer during the music round. So, when a film like The Strange Dreams Of Hypnos And Venus comes along you'd think that I might be in a pretty decent position to enjoy, decipher and understand what it's all about. Apparently not.
Photographed, edited and directed by Alexandre David Lejuez, The Strange Dreams Of Hypnos And Venus opens with a quotation from Henry David Thoreau, a poem about love and the playing of some baroque(?) classical music. Then we meet Hypnos (Fournarel) surrounded by his own artistic impressions which seem to resemble himself, Jesus and the Devil all in one, and Ravel's Bolero begins to play (I know that one! 5 points to me) as Hypnos broods over making some tea before taking a drink and falling asleep to dream. This takes the entire length of the musical piece to do, some fifteen minutes, and by the end of it the audience is left wondering just what else they're going to get in the rest of the one hour and forty-five minute runtime.
Well, the answer is not a lot. Inside Hypnos' dream more classical music plays while he sees images of faces – busts, statues, statuettes, masks, tapestries, paintings – faces, myriad faces and in the end some skulls. These are all still images which are cut together and zoomed in or out of alternately to give the impression of movement or gravitas. Then Hypnos wakes up, smokes something out of his pipe – probably weed – and falls asleep again for another extended dream sequence. This time he sees images of iconography and idolatry, mostly through stained glass windows, before moving onto lights and buildings.
All of this might mean something to some people, if you're able to identify the faces of antiquity and the music which accompanies them, but unless you've had a classical education or have a serious interest in art and art history a lot of this is going to fall by the wayside and mean nothing at all. Part two is a mirror of the first, this time focusing on Venus (Langlet) whose poisons are cocoa and lollipops, and she prefers to dream about the seaside, coastline, cliffs and rocks. Venus enjoys sunsets and sunrises and eventually settles on the countryside and the gardens of country estates. Still the classical music plays and it's debatable whether any of this means anything to anyone other than Lejuez.
It is clear to see that what Lejuez is trying to recreate here is his own version of the seminal artistic collaborations between Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi (1982)/ Powaqqatsi (1988) (and the third one which shouldn't even be uttered in the same breath). However, while Reggio's work focused on humanity and its destructive relationship with the natural world – which was able to be distinctly picked out as a narrative despite the lack of story or dialogue – Lejuez's work doesn't appear to have any such narrative to it at all, even with the basic attempt at plotting.
Lejuez's images and music never really match up at all (certainly nothing on the scale of Glass' achievements), except perhaps Bolero which gets used twice, and it is unclear throughout the film just what he is trying to get at. The whole movie is one giant arthouse piece with a lot of navel gazing involved, which if it says anything at all seems to scream, “I am far more intellectual than you.” Granted some of the visuals are nicely photographed and very nice to look at, especially those filled with colour, and of course the music is very impressive but they just don't marry together into a cohesive structure to give the viewer enough to stay engaged.
The Strange Dreams Of Hypnos And Venus is very slow in what it does and is likely to pass over the heads of many who take the time to sit down and watch it. Perhaps Lejuez's work would be better suited to an art installation but even then its interminable length will be too much for most to bear. Lejuez should be commended for his vision and commitment to his art but for the rest of us he's probably best left alone to dream his own dreams.