Pompei (Pompéi) : ‘TIFF’ Review – A Visual-Stunning yet Empty Allegory on Loneliness and Escapism
It is never specified where and when John Shank and Anna Falguères’ ‘Pompei (Pompéi)‘ takes place in. Which is why we always feel a little detached and dissimulated with the reality the film is set in. We do understand the basic setting though. It’s a land where the adults are absent and the children have resorted to tending for themselves. The title clearly signifies a place that has lost its true essence and the new civilization doesn’t really understand where to start. The loneliness has set in so deep that every day is only triggered by strange rules and rituals.
The community of children that forms the center of the premise, seems to be lifted from a page straight out of William Golding’s ‘Lord of Flies’. These are small children who have been burdened by a lack of care. Which is why these formulating rules that are set by their self-appointed leader Toxou (Vincent Rottiers) are the only righteous notion. There are engravings on the walls that they inhabit. Showcasing their lack of learning and the dissimulated past, present and future – Which is all wounded-up into one.
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The setup is trodden with strange rituals. The kids need to recollect some dough in order to see their elders pertaining to the act of sexual conduct. If they don’t come up with the money, the shows a no-see for them. There’s also a much older person who these kids seem to owe. It’s never clearly mentioned why Jimmy and Toxou work for him but this teenage wasteland and the lack of opportunities rightfully signal us towards a debt. Also, since there is no societal norm for these bunch, they mostly do as they please.
While I have been a fan of strange settings that completely ignores how a person should grow up, watching Pompei (Pompéi) serves as a wake-up call. The chaos that is brought out by a lack of guidance not only blocks the entire steps to growing up, but it only butchers the possibilities of finding and understanding love. Love hence becomes an alien entity. The film rightfully follows the trajectory of empathy causing a ruckus. The film’s major conflict occurs right before Jimmy is supposed to turn 13. The group’s ritual attunes that a 13-year-old must have sex in order to make the transition into a man. So Jimmy and his brother Victor – who have been inseparable, falter in their departments when Billie (Garance Marillier) enters the scene.
The two brothers have had a bond of mutual understanding. Which is why Jimmy and Victor seem more grounded to reality than the other people in the group. They share the same house and go to excavation sites together. They even ride back and forth on their bike to make gasoline needs come true. However, with Billie entering the whole cycle, the relationship between Jimmy and Victor slowly falls apart. Bille is a fascinating spin on the manic pixie girl. Much like the unconventional gang at the center she has a penance for violence. She also has deep-rooted daddy issues and a family who doesn’t understand her existence.
John Shank and Anna Falguères have some interesting themes to investigate in their gorgeous looking film. The idea of empathy, escapism, and loneliness are recurring themes that often form the subtext of ‘Pompei (Pompéi)‘. However, except for cinematographer Florian Berutti’s beautiful frames and a consistently gloomy score nothing much really brings this coming of age tale together. In spite of 3 fascinating characters at its center, the film mostly remains empty with a lot left unsaid. The silences and half-baked catharsis doesn’t serve much of a purpose when everything is left to the viewers self-soaked wisdom making this a project lost in an oblivion of deserted land.