Luz is the kind of film that sends critics back to the director’s statement, trying to figure out what, exactly, its maker had in mind. It’s described as a “sensuous thriller that plays with the sensory perception of the audience” by first-time feature writer/director Tilman Singer, who goes on to call it a “story about identity” and an homage to horror masters David Cronenberg, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci, before admitting that it’s “purposely open to interpretation." That's an understatement.
What begins as a torturous exercise in artsy European genre films – endless long-takes, cryptic dialogue, and light eroticism – soon gives way to a pleasantly compelling and sufficiently gory bottle thriller with a supernatural twist. All of it is shouldered by the mesmerizing Luana Velis in the title role of Luz Carrara, a tomboyish taxi driver who appears to have a psychotic break after an ill-fated chance meeting with Nora (Julia Reidler), a former classmate and possible lover from her Catholic school days in Chile. As the action plays out, all in the confines of a drab conference room at a run-down German police station, the investigation into Nora’s disappearance soon spirals into a nightmarish descent into Luz’s psyche, with the possessed hypnotherapist Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) at the helm.
From its degraded-looking, 16mm format - complete with visible dirt events and scratches - to its moody, synth-soaked score, Luz doesn’t skimp on style, resulting in some truly memorable imagery. The first act alone includes a bathroom freakout that climaxes with the wail of a rock saxophone and a demonic kiss, and the weirdness only escalates from there. Much of it is rewarding, if not deliberately confounding (Tilman also says he structured the narrative “as a panic attack, of repressed memories and confusion”).
The lack of time placement adds to this effect, which, depending on how you read the wardrobe and production design, defines the film. From an opening bar scene cast in a muted neon fluorescent familiar to early Michael Mann to the outdated technology, it’s not unreasonable to assume the film takes place in mid- to late-‘80s Germany. To that end, it recalls similar works like Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, another bizarre film reflecting Soviet-era paranoia of being manipulated and controlled by larger forces (like Possession, Luz is also multi-lingual, with characters speaking in Spanish and German).
Luz also falls in with more recent films unabashedly influenced by hyper-stylized, hyper-sensualized film eras, including the psycho-sexual thrillers of the Italian Giallo genre and trippy, low-budget ‘80s horror. If you’re a fan of, say, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, the works of Panos Cosmatos, or Berberian Sound Studio, Luz would make a wonderful addition to your weird little collection.
Luz is now playing at the Harris Theater. Showtimes continue through Thu., Aug. 8. 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $8. cinema.pfpca.org