Bertrand Bonello stitches together an experimental ‘gesture’ to his daughter


Source: Les films du Bélier / My New Picture / Remembers


Dir/scr: Bertrand Bonello. France. 2022. 80 mins 

Bertrand Bonello confronts the experience and legacy of the pandemic lockdown in Coma. Designed as a way to understand and reassure his teenage daughter, it deploys an imaginative range of techniques (3D animation, surveillance cameras, archive footage, etc.), ideas and aphorisms to reflect on the modern world and the fears of those who will inherit it. The wide-ranging, experimental combination of extended therapy session and state-of-the-nation essay is often intriguing but represents a considerable commercial challenge.

Bonello’s scattershot, kitchen sink approach can grate

Bonello begins the film with a letter addressed to his daughter Anna, reminding her that he dedicated his 2016 film Nocturama to her. Now, she has turned 18 she is roughly the same age as the young radicals in that film - except she is trapped in the limbo of lockdown. On-screen titles inform us of his thoughts and fears about all they have endured, of vanished loves and those they have lost. He comforts her by noting: “Even if winter is long and harsh, spring always returns. There is always a rebirth.” Coma is described as a gesture to his daughter.

We are then immersed in the life of teenager Anna (Louise Labeque). She is cut off from the world, marooned in a bedroom crowded with possessions. A poster of James Dean adorns her wall. There is a lava lamp on a desk. Books, games, toys and trinkets spill out from shelves and drawers. One of her few connections to the world is YouTuber Patricia Coma, played with blank-faced, unblinking poise by Julia Faure. An elegant, persuasive figure, Coma runs a channel that promises to help you live a better life. She offers everything from weather forecasts to recipes and sells a Rubik’s Cube-like device called a Revelator. Small and square, it has four luminous pads in red, blue, green and yellow. Successfully repeating a sequence of colours is considered a win but when Anna discovers it is rigged so she cannot lose it becomes a lesson that free will does not exist.

Coma has an ’Alice In Wonderland’ quality as we trip into different chambers of Anna’s subconscious. Some scenes unfold in a doll’s house that seems to have taken decorating tips from Almodovar. There are bright red sofas, polka dot cushions and Nicholas (voiced by Vincent Lacoste) sports a salmony coloured tank top. Barbie dolls Sharon (Laetitia Casta) and Scott (the late Gaspard Ulliel) enact soap opera-style sagas of insecurity, infidelity and betrayal. There is also a gloomy forest area, dubbed the Free Zone, filled with a sense of threat. In real life, Anna has an unsettling group call on Zoom with friends who share her obsession with famous serial killers. 

Reality and dreamscapes start to blur, invading and infecting each other. The same dialogue is repeated in different settings. There are references to Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos. If Anna steps out of her house, she is under surveillance from cameras. There are POV sequences and a soundtrack punctuated by inappropriate bursts of a laughter track or blood-curdling screams.

Bonello’s scattershot, kitchen sink approach can grate. Patricia Coma is never as sinister or sharply satirical a figure as one might have hoped, despite her promise of an investigation into Michael Jackson’s songs and the suggestion “what we took for paedophilia was in fact philanthropy!”. References to Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran and stern warnings that “the most graceful young girl can be a voracious ghoul” build the oppressive tone of the film. Eventually, Bonello does draw things together and creates a sense of cohesion in addressing the insecurities, large and small, of a typical teenager who has endured the pandemic lockdown. Thoughts of climate catastrophe and terrorism are accompanied by suitably apocalyptic images. Fears of relationships play out in the outrageous actions of the doll Scott. Everything bleeds into a unifying story of what Anna feels and fears.The reward for surviving the journey through her limbo is Bonello’s offer of hope and the promise of a brand new day.

Production companies: Les Films Du Bélier, My New Picture

International sales: Best Friend Forever Sales,

Producers: Justin Taurand, Bertrand Bonello

Production design: Daphné Yvon, Gaston Portejoie, Anna Bonello

Cinematography: Antoine Parouty

Editing: Gabrielle Stemmer

Music: Bertrand Bonello

Main cast: Julia Faure, Louise Labeque, Laetitia Casta, Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Lacoste, Louis Garrel, Anais Demoustier