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Genius loci

16 minutes

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An odyssey into the Parisian night reflects the allure and anxieties of cities

‘All around me, I find chaos. It’s always there. It just changes in scale. You can’t stop it. You can only watch it.’

Like walking a street at night in an unfamiliar city, Genius Loci (2020) is an experience brimming with strangeness and surprises at every turn. The film follows a young woman, Reine, as she leaves her apartment and embarks on a disorienting odyssey into a nocturnal, vaguely Parisian world of artists, cat-callers and mysterious strangers. As the night progresses, her experience increasingly descends into the surreal. She crosses paths with a woman who bursts into flames and calmly walks away. An apple vibrates and rings like a phone. People transform into dogs, trees, and one another. The few lines of dialogue alternate between quotidian and abstract. Built from shapes that assemble, morph and slip away, each scene seems to have a foot in a recognisable reality and another in a more ephemeral – and for Reine, perhaps inner – world.

While the French director Adrien Mérigeau works from just a wisp of a narrative, his unpredictable world-building and colourful, endlessly intricate aesthetic make for a deeply riveting watch. The fruit of a large and collaborative artistic undertaking, the film’s eclectic visuals echo the narrative itself, shifting from familiar palettes and shapes into different styles – like one radio station momentarily bleeding into another. Pairing this imagery with a sparse, delicate soundtrack, the elements bind into something tense, surreal and often beautiful. This swirl of technical mastery and enigmatic artistic vision led to numerous accolades on the film-festival circuit in 2020, culminating in a nomination for Best Animated Short Film at the 2021 Academy Awards.

For all its bold visual richness, Genius Loci is more than just a visual marvel. Inspired by Mérigeau’s own time living in bohemian communities, the film seems to reflect on what draws people to seek self-discovery in the chaos of urban life – to, in Mérigeau’s words, ‘experience beauty in broken spaces’. It’s a credit to Mérigeau and his team that every stunning sequence feels in service to this vision of the parallel excitements and anxieties, and emergent aliveness, of a pulsing city.

Written by Adam D’Arpino

Director: Adrien Mérigeau

Writers: Adrien Merigeau, Nicolas Pleskof

7 September 2022