Opening with a title card that explains that Jupiter has a large number of moons, and that one, Europa, has the potential to contain life. Jupiter’s Moon – Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s latest feature – sets the mood in much the same way as John Carpenter’s The Thing does with its opening shot of something falling to earth. Albeit far less subtly. Were it not for this opening, the film, which centres on a Syrian refugee who develops superpowers could be read very differently.
The refugee come superhuman, Aryan (Zsombor Jeger), is referred to multiple times as an angel, and the central character – a doctor named Stern (Merab Ninidze) – slowly begins the film as an atheist, and thanks to his experience with Aryan, slowly begins to believe in the ‘divine’. At the same time piecing back together his fractured sense of morality. Mundruczo is leaning in hard to the alien messiah trope, but so unsubtly that characters practically shout, “he’s just like Jesus!” at each other.
Stern is a doctor who encounters Aryan following his being shot by a police officer after illegally making his way into Hungary. Aryan’s journey to Europe has clearly been a difficult one – Mundruczo’s clumsy approach to metaphors is evident in the opening shot of chickens in cages in the same vehicle as the refugees – and culminates with the police in Hungary opening fire on a boat holding him, his father and a number of other refugees.
The filmmaking on display in this opening is vivid, urgent and highly arresting – with shallow depth of field shots, lengthy shots that track Aryan’s movements, and a remarkably stripped back and effective approach to sound design. All of which helps draw us in and make us feel like we are with Aryan at all times, both physically and emotionally. The technique on display is striking and highly impressive, but also in service of thrusting us alongside Aryan, making us feel the threat, the danger and the drama of what is happening.
Mundruczo’s is not always so focused though. In fact the film swings so wildly between tour side force filmmaking brilliance and incompetent showboating, that it’s easy to find oneself feeling like you’re watching a masterpiece and an utter disaster within one scene. There are enough highlights though, and whilst the film does at times feel derivative of Children of Men – it would be astonishing if this wasn’t a significant inspiration – there is enough visual and aural inventiveness to keep your attention all the way to the film’s slightly goofy but splendidly entertaining climax.