Club Zero

Club Zero
Club Zero
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Most films will spoon-feed you their plot, themes, and message. In Club Zero no one gets anything from a silver spoon but an amazing metal. It may be a frustrating movie for many people who do not like any form of cognitive dissonance with the only answer being that people are right and wrong at the same time. However, certain political persuasions might have manipulated it to serve their own purposes. If you let yourself to be taken, however, Club Zero deconstructs the easy comforts of ideology to expose the bewildering dilemma of our age.

The film is directed by Jessica Hausner a fascinating Austrian auteur who has recently been turning to English language cinema after her fantastic Little Joe. Club Zero stars Mia Wasikowska as a teacher in a posh ultra-modern school where she is introduced as an expert on “conscious eating.” She has only few students whose dress code is all yellow bright shirts sitting in circle around her talking Socratic method. The concepts she teaches about include waste, rebellion, capitalism etc., – ‘wellness’ is another point which she explains how best we should eat for ourselves and for our planet. By then everyone is now eating consciously or even not at all.

As this suggests, there are some very difficult (and disgusting) images and sounds that follow in the narrative when Hausner intentionally refuses to take the easier way out. Here too she covers all bases letting teachers’ conflicting opinions live together with those of students, parents or even faculty in an increasingly frightening space within which they become swallowed up completely.

Ms. Novak portrayed by Wasikowska (a possible nod to Kim Novak in Vertigo; perhaps also referring to Slavic word ‘new’; or maybe character Anna Novak played by herself in The Man With The Iron Heart) is one of her weirdest performances yet . It’s always good news when Wasikowska appears on screen because she tends to work with the best directors (Jim Jarmusch, Park Chan-Wook, Guillermo del Toro, Tim Burton, David Cronenberg, Mia Hansen-Løve, Lisa Cholodenko) on the most exciting projects.

Yet she is ostensibly the antagonist in this movie and yet not really. There are multitudes within her like the film itself; she is cheerful while at the same time covertly manipulative. Novak plays a character somewhat resembling a Pied Piper who indoctrinates kids into an unhealthy obsession that they can survive without eating anything at all. It begins slowly and naturally as students are asked to consider what they eat instead of mindlessly stuffing their faces.

Novak explains how when you starve the body will start feeding on itself once it enters into autophagy but she portrays it as something absolutely beneficial. “The truth is, this process makes us stronger and less tired” and “Even heal diseases,& proved to extend our lives by 10-20 years,” She claims. However she restricts her knowledge from spreading outside class walls. “This is strictly confidential,” explained Novak. “Don’t tell your parents or other pupils; they wouldn’t understand & might make you weak by doubting your faith.” You could be among the few that actually live when the rest of world perish under.”

So, everything was beautifully done in a cool and somehow flat manner suggesting that it was supposed to be funny or scary depending on how one looks at it. This is because of the way Hausner casts her characters and directs them. She uses a very Bertolt Brechtian technique here (something which is coming back in style, what with Yorgos Lanthimos and Riley Stearns’ often deadpan characters). The sparse yet effective percussive score and bold but monochromatic color palette add to this perfectly.

Mostly, if they are really students, many of the characters are not professional actors. In fact more importantly and thankfully so, the cast largely refuses so-called emotional realism. It is an important choice to make a level playing field of ideas that allows audiences to confront opposite thoughts and characters as equals; hence this film is about ideas, about culture though history politics socio-economics…

From some kind of description of plot alone Ms. Novak seems like an absolute monster but maybe she thinks she’s doing the right thing for real. We only see her praying or crying alone at a little hand-made altar (maybe to her mother (or perhaps God) Gaia).

In reality – those who are extremely food secure may have to eat less; inversely we need less food from our planet thus eat less fish & meat generally; lastly we should consider what exactly goes into our body much more than any other time before – that’s all why she does what she does: This might be enough for one question—what must faith require? I bet Julia would be able to answer this question after watching ‘Club Zero’ by Alice Mcdermott.

Novak’s ‘conscious eating’ class could stand in for several hot button issues in today’s society. Extreme case of bodily autonomy (abortion as choice for women or refusing vaccination as a personal choice by an employee) Does one have the right to refuse food? For Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia groups, anorexia and bulimia are considered lifestyle choices. Is it permissible for people to kill themselves? It’s not a little amount of restriction but ‘assisted suicide’ is increasingly becoming popular. We get more complicated when we talk about our children which makes Club Zero al the more disturbing.

What about children? It’s strange to leave your kids with strangers for nine hours a day at school, where they learn things you don’t want them to (and you won’t learn). Novak embodies the educational boogeyman that has sent millions of parents into apoplectic fits in recent years, screaming at school council meetings, igniting the internet with online rage, and pushing for restrictive legislation.

It has always been this way (the Scopes Monkey Trial was 100 years ago, in which case parents were fighting over whether or not evolution could be taught in schools) but reached its zenith in recent years as parents have unjustifiably panicked that their offspring are being indoctrinated with ‘woke’ beliefs. Teachers have been called groomers or have been outright fired; books have been banned; there was a national uproar over Drag Queen Story Hour.

Thus Club Zero may well be seen as the perfect Republican horror movie. To those who know that living honestly so often means keeping competing notions alive in one’s headspace simultaneously, Club Zero will be many different things – satire, tragedy, prediction, capitalism’s latter-day Autophagy opus.

The Club Zero is a production of Coop99, BBC Film, Essential Films, Parisienne, Paloma Productions, Gold Rush Films, Cinema Inutile and the Austrian Film Institute.

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