Club Zero is a stylish, dystopian film that offers an interesting perspective on food and social alignments in contemporary bourgeois society at an elite boarding and day school. When the head of school, Ms. Dorset (Sidse Babett Knudsen), welcomes new faculty member Ms. Novak (Mia Wasikowska), who teaches a class on conscious eating, it is considered a much-anticipated addition to the school’s curriculum. She is well-spoken but lackluster. At first, Ms. Novak’s methods are acceptable and worth absorbing. However, when she insists that students should stop eating, things change and become bizarre, launching Club Zero.
Director Jessica Hausner has a knack for diving into social eccentricities. Club Zero takes her interests to another level where food and societal issues are connected to an extreme, questioning a seeming reality. Each student has a valid reason for wanting to participate in conscious eating—political, sports, diabetes, and body image—however, when told to stop eating, the class divides, and what’s left are those devout to Ms. Novak.
“… when she insists that students should stop eating, things change and become bizarre, launching Club Zero.”
It is a visually stunning art-directed film of modern architecture and design. It adds a slight thriller feel, especially with the odd choice of the school’s uniform of peculiar unisex gauchos, polos, and strangely colored knee-high socks. Yet, it does not incense fear but more curiosity. Club Zero centers around a group of students, Fred (Luke Barker), Elsa (Ksenia Devriendt), Ragna (Florence Baker), and Ben (Samuel D. Anderson), who all begin to orbit around Ms. Novak’s teachings so much that their absent parents, who have their own odd issues, begin to take note. It was their desire to have Ms. Novak at the school because they had heard about her ground-breaking teachings and methods.
Fred, a diabetic and unique, crosses school policy lines with Ms. Novak, which leads to her dismal but not a loss of her power. It only builds to the point where a grotesque scene of Ragna eating her vomit is done in protest, not as a disorder, while her parents, Ragna’s mother (Keeley Forsyth) and Ragna’s father (Lukas Turtur) watch. Quirky and uncomfortable but hard to turn away from, Club Zero is reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, especially because it has a tone of below-average existence masked in contemporary and forward-thinking superficialities.
A unique soundtrack that is part of Club Zero’s contemporary appeal, along with clothing stylings and other details, also adds to the almost emotionless thriller undertones of the film. Only certain characters show emotion or lack of control, which includes Elsa’s Father (Mathieu Demy), who admits Elsa’s mother (Elsa Zylberstein) has an eating disorder, but only in mention and nothing more. There are more little details and small actions scattered throughout the film. However, the bonding of Fred, Elsa, Ragna, and Ben is most unsettling. They eat together and pick out flaws of their alignment to conscious eating, such as smelling food on one’s breath, to the purpose for each other, and, ultimately, to remain loyal even if we have no idea what happens to them.
For screening information about Club Zero, visit its Film Freeway page.
"…it has a tone of below-average existence masked in contemporary and forward-thinking superficialities..."