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By Bobby LePire | May 16, 2024

Coma, by writer-director Bertrand Bonello, begins and ends with a letter narrated by the filmmaker. This letter, along with the accompanying on-screen text, encapsulates the profound philosophical foundations of this quarantine-produced drama. In a world saturated with COVID-19-related media, some created in the midst of the pandemic and others reflecting on it from a post-pandemic standpoint, Bonello’s is most singular in style. But is there enough substance in this look into the isolation mindset to make this worth watching?

The filmmaker’s daughter, Louise Babeque, plays the unnamed teenage protagonist credited only as L’adolescente (The Adolescent). Since her only avenues to the outside world are video chats and social being, it’s clear that being confined to her house is taking quite a toll on the unnamed lead. Things become even worse due to calls dropping and the like. At night, the Adolescent’s dreams are set in a forest where she wanders about, crossing the path of many wayward souls.

Amidst her conversations with friends about serial killers and deep dives into Michael Jackson’s lyrics, the teenager finds solace in a YouTube show hosted by Patricia Coma (Julia Faure). The show, seemingly about anything that piques the star’s interest, often appears to be a direct response to the teenage girl’s actions or words. However, this surreal touch pales in comparison to the stop-motion sitcom. This unique element, featuring Ken and Barbie-like dolls voiced by Laetitia Casta and Gaspard Ulliel, delves into the lead’s inner thoughts and turmoil in a delightfully absurd manner, adding depth to the narrative.

“…it’s clear that being confined to her house is taking quite a toll on the unnamed lead.”

Coma is less a proper narrative and more of a snapshot of the lockdown mindset. The Adolescent is either in her room or in the wooded purgatory of her dreams, or is that nightmares? What’s real and what’s just the teenager’s mind grasping to find a connection to anything, anywhere, is left for the audience to decipher. How the girl and Patricia Coma are linked, especially as the conclusion draws near, is a fascinating glimpse into what audiences project onto those they look up to.

The editing throughout the 82-minute experiment is precise yet maintains that jumbled, uncertain feeling the story is aiming for. The jumps between the heroine’s daily routine, the sitcom, and the YouTube show are seamless. When all three are happening at the same time, more or less, there’s never any confusion about what’s going on, where, or why. The cinematography by Antoine Parouty is dream-like and beautiful, even in the doldrums of everyday existence, unable to leave the house.

The performances in Coma are a testament to the talent involved. Babeque’s portrayal of the lead character is a masterclass in emotional range, making each emotion feel authentic and relatable. Faure’s performance as Patricia Coma brings a depth of empathy and humanity to a role that might only exist in the lead’s head. The voice acting during the sitcom segments strikes the perfect balance between comedy and drama, adding another layer of depth to the film.

Coma is an experience that will prove divisive. The lack of a proper plot might frustrate some, but a story isn’t the point. The character arcs only coming into view in the final 10 or 15 minutes might also irk a few cinephiles. However, Bonello perfectly captures that lost feeling brought on by prolonged isolation. All the days run together, compounding the sense of confusion and frustration. The comedy and drama balance each other well, while the varying styles create a wholly unique work of art that perfectly captures the uncertainty of the beginnings of quarantine.

For more information, visit the official Coma Film Movement site.

Coma (2024)

Directed and Written: Bertrand Bonello

Starring: Louise Babeque, Julia Faure, Laetitia Casta, Gaspard Ulliel, etc.

Movie score: 9.5/10

Coma Image

"…a wholly unique work of art..."

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