“I don’t have time to lie,” Emily Thompson (Eva Green) confides to a stranger early in Lisa Langseth’s “Euphoria,” just after she’s greeted by her sister Ines (Alicia Vikander) at the airport. It’s a matter of convenience that she’s said this now, well after her sister got on the plane, since Ines is under the impression she’s spending a spa weekend with her sister for the first time in five years, but Emily has other plans, with her short-cropped hair and pale complexion tell-tale signs that something is amiss. As if Ines wasn’t aware before, it isn’t long after she’s met with the piercing gaze of Charlotte Rampling at the base of a mountain retreat that things truly get hairy in “Euphoria,” a drama that tests the sisters’ already tenuous relationship when Emily reveals she’s brought Ines along to accompany her in what will be her final days.
After dealing with mental illness and grief in unconventional ways in her previous film “Hotell,” Langseth’s follow-up is no less daring in positioning a story that revolves around euthanasia as an opportunity to observe two women, brought up under the same roof, who have entirely different attitudes towards life. Spiking the film with hits of David Bowie and having two very game actresses in Green and Vikander who throw themselves around with abandon, the writer/director ensures “Euphoria” isn’t some dour countdown to Emily’s death, but instead nourishes a vibrant dialogue between the sisters that ranges from their separate reactions to their mother’s death five years earlier to their wildest sexual experiences, ultimately bringing to light what they value the most when staring the end in the face.
Langseth’s thoughtful and provocative consideration of such matters grows out of finding the perfect setting for “Euphoria,” a gloriously verdant estate made to feel like heaven for its guests – Emily’s request to have the staff make her mother’s blueberry pancakes for breakfast is just one accommodation – yet becomes a personal hell for Ines, who can’t escape after learning her sister’s condition. As much as cinematographer Rob Hardy roams around the property finding beauty in both the flora and the soon-to-be-deceased, Emily and Ines, as well as all the other guests of the retreat, are ultimately stuck, some more accepting of their fate than others and the reasons why they’ve chosen to take their own life, rather than wilt away, are very different.
The variety of experience portrayed in “Euphoria” continually tickles the cerebrum as the unique atmosphere forces the guests to engage with both the environment and each other, but it’s the raw, unvarnished performances that tug at the heart, vacillating between Emily and Ines to a wily stage four cancer patient (Charles Dance) and a deflated former football-playing paraplegic (Mark Walter). Green, who rarely gets to be seen so vulnerable, is especially affecting as the dying Emily, ferocious to have a measure of control over her death that she hasn’t had while living, and Vikander does well to complicate Ines, who isn’t initially accepting of her’s sister decision yet finds it in her own nature to respect it. Rampling, there to serve as a kind of mediator at times seems as if she’s the only person who could play Marina, the impervious leader of the retreat who hides her own wounds.
Although the strength of the performances are powerful enough, Langseth’s ability to give them air and place them into an experiential context where the narrative never takes precedence over a sense of atmosphere yet also never loses momentum, is refreshing, particularly when dealing with such difficult subject matter. True to the film’s title, “Euphoria” washes over you, making you feel all the emotions so deeply, both sensually and quantitatively.
“Euphoria” does not have U.S. distribution. It will play at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12th at the Bell Lightbox 1 at 9:30 a.m. and September 16th at 6:30 pm.