Neptune Frost mixes music and science fiction to create a work of art

Cinema, whether we like to think of it that way or not, is often ruled by boundaries. They are expected to follow a typical narrative structure, conveying character development and plot through shared beliefs about how such stories should unfold. You must have a clearly established sequence of events, bound together by an expectation that the writing, directing, and editing will color the lines. We often operate in a binary way of thinking, trapping in movies that follow the rules we set for them or rejecting others when they don’t. It makes it all the more exciting and gripping when movies break free from these narrowly focused binaries, opening up new possibilities for what cinema can be.


The new sci-fi musical Neptune FrostFriday release, directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman is one of those works. Lin-Manuel Miranda serves as an executive producer on the film, which displays the binaries we expect it to fall into to become a dreamlike and ethereal experience like a fairy tale, while being so much more. It tells the story of a group of runaway miners in Rwanda who form an anti-colonialist hacker collective that also becomes a place of community for those who have been oppressed. Set in an otherworldly, surreal future, people seem to have merged their bodies with technology to become something new. At the heart of it is a miner named Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse) and an intersex fugitive named Neptune, played by the two Cheryl Isheja and Elvis Ngabo. The two are brought together through dreams and technology that have the power to alter the world as they know it.

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The film premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival before going to the Toronto International Film Festival, and more recently Sundance. It’s a vibrant work worth seeking out not only for its uniqueness, but also for the way it all comes together so well. The plot description only offers a basic interpretation of what is playing out as it is much more than the literal events as they unfold before us. Instead, it’s about how it overwhelms you and shatters all the notions we had before. It’s an odd experience, but undeniably beautiful and distinct. It’s in terms of the visual style, using rich reds, beautiful blues, and lush greens, as well as how the presentation keeps pushing itself to keep trying new things. It combines fantastical elements, both in terms of sci-fi technology and frequent musical interludes, in a way that is all its own. The score, with its use of electronic tones, becomes a way that itself shatters conceptions of what is diegetic and what is not, inviting us to reflect on how blurry everything is.

It’s one of the many ways he breaks down the seemingly strict binaries of gender, consciousness, memory, and time to become more illusory in the most incisive way imaginable. The characters communicate through song and technology which takes on a fascinating quality in the way they are woven together. People are connected to this technology, using it as a tool for liberation and exploration. In doing so, it almost makes these various constraints disappear as it develops into something both far greater in scope and style. Originally conceived as a staging, Neptune Frost takes on new life on screen just as it takes a stylistic hammer to the constraints of cinematic form.

Trying to pin it down completely is in itself an almost reckless exercise, as it’s one of those works best seen for yourself to make sure you can fully enjoy the experience. It’s like a spell cast upon you, pulling you into its ever-changing world and the characters that inhabit it. Such shifts can often become nightmarish, hitting us with rather unsettling streaks as quickly as they hit us with admiration in others. Looks like there’s movie flashes like the ones from 2009 District 9 or 2016 Sections, although that only scratches the surface of how much he constantly reinvents himself from scene to scene. There’s nothing quite like it out there, an item that’s by design without ever feeling like it’s stretched too thin. On the contrary, it expands the form in a way that gives confidence while remaining perpetually bold.

The best way to describe what Neptune Frost manages to achieve is to tap into the words of one of its characters. When we wake up, we hear them asking, “Is this the idea of ​​a poet’s dream?” This extra layer of abstraction, while grounding itself in creative mental space, encapsulates what plays out the best it can. It’s a film that sets out to challenge meaning, to shake up the limits of its own story and those we impose on ourselves. The characters find freedom precisely because they imagine a better world and shake up the rules that have been put in place for theirs, reinventing what is possible. He finds joy in both music and science fiction, combining the two until they take on an almost spiritual quality. Everything is built so precisely to pull you into its unique frequency, almost making you feel like you’re levitating outside of your body as you watch. The eventual return to Earth is a painful descent, though a testament to his overall emotions.

All of this may sound daunting, but it’s worth taking the plunge as the film guides you with a gentle hand, even as it constantly pulls you deeper. The characters and the camera are almost constantly in motion, leaving you with a feeling of endless acceleration. . It seems almost limitless in its potential. The dialogue itself provides rich observation, giving insight into the world and expanding the minds of the characters you feel like you only get a fraction of on a first watch. The idea that “technology is just a reflection of us” is discarded at one point, letting it sink briefly before moving on to the next sequence of events without looking back. When put into conversation with a musical sequence where a character reflects on how others say they can’t “change the code”, the multiplicity of meanings explodes outward. It’s a film that no one will see the same way, though everyone should experience themselves at least once, if not just to see the potential of an uncompromising work of art.

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About Donald P. Hooten

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