AF French Film Festival Review: Planetarium (France/Belgium, 2016) is supernaturally addictive, but not as intriguing as it aims to be

A strong taste of the old is present in Planetarium, as Natalie Portman leads a dual-language spoken film about not only the ghosts of the supernatural around us, but also those which come from within before the dawning of a new war era.

Directed and written by French filmmaker Rebecca Zlotowski (Grand Central) the film follows two American sisters, Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp) Barlow, who have the ability to communicate with the dead. Currently residing in pre-World-War-II era France, they find themselves residing with Andre Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), a Frenchman who becomes encapsulated with their supposed powers, and attempts to set a future for them on the big screen.

Although a very active part of the film, Planetarium continues to stay rather ambiguous on whether the Barlow sisters, most notably the soft-spoken teenager Kate, actually hold psychic powers. No special effects are used during the seances, just an eerie silence as Depp’s eyes roll back as she begins to rapidly shake. It continues to peg the question up until the very end whether Portman’s Laura uses her charm and smooth talking skills to win the people over, or if there really is a true element of the supernatural present.

A standout for the film is being able to witness a 17-year-old Lily-Rose Depp‘s burgeoning talents as an established actress. Being a part native of France,  Depp is able to extend her dramatic talents in a serious setting (although still in the restraints of a quiet, passive teenage role) rather than in her previous lead role in Kevin Smith‘s parody comedy-action film Yoga Hosers.

Natalie Portman continues to shine as she takes the reins throughout the film. Speaking a heavy amount of French and English in a deep and brooding tone, Portman continues to remind us that no matter what the film, she continues to give her all as a well-rounded actress – demonstrated in this year’s Jackie.

Although the story is somewhat contrived at times, which leads to slowly-paced moments, by far an enjoyable element is the cinematography and set design. The aura of the supernatural is addressed through stunning camera-work and a silent setting of suspense. The costume design is probably the most enchanting part of the film, as the ’30s era of French fashion and theatre is represented through beautiful berets and pinafore dresses.

In conclusion, Planetarium is a drawn-out drama that seems to purposely cast a strong eye on Natalie Portman as the one to carry the film. It’s unclear storyline isn’t aided by the confusing editing choices in scenes, but successfully shows Lily-Rose Depp as an emerging talent to watch.

Overall, the representation of the 1930’s supernatural entertainment obsession in Planetarium is demonstrated well enough, particularly from a foreign and cosmopolitan perspective. It reminds us of the reasons one might be intrigued with the elements of ghosts and psychics; to learn more out about ourselves, as the Barlow sisters do, than we could do on our own.


Planetarium is screening as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival this March and April around the country. Tickets and more information are available here.


This content has recently been ported from its original home on The Iris and may have formatting errors – images may not be showing up, or duplicated, and galleries may not be working. We are slowly fixing these issue. If you spot any major malfunctions making it impossible to read the content, however, please let us know at editor AT