COMA – Review by Diane Carson

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Coma visualizes the imaginary world of a teenage girl

Motivated by the pandemic isolation, French writer/director Bertrand Bonello’s Coma explores the dreams and fears, hopes and anxieties of an unnamed eighteen-year-old. Through live action and animation, the journey chaotically glides through a myriad of current issues, skipping from one to another: the environment, social media influencers, cheating on and breaking up with romantic partners, and psychological entrapment.

Bonello opens and concludes Coma with a long, optimistic, philosophical message to his eighteen-year-old daughter Anna, the inspiration for the film and the person to whom it is dedicated. Merging reality and fantasy, subsequent events ponder and navigate issues, sometimes humorously, at other times seriously, always in a stream of consciousness. Abandoning logical progression, the interaction includes dreams anchored in unpredictable detours to Patricia Coma who skips from weather forecasts to advice.

In press notes, Bonello accurately describes his untethered, extravagant exploration as motivated by the pandemic lockdown plus his response to French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. He notes his combination of diverse textures with live-action, subjective camcorder shots, surveillance footage, archival footage, 2D and 3D animation, plus a nighttime forest with horror overtones. In other words, Coma is a rather chaotic assortment of ideas and images, reality and dreams. And yet, it captures our disjointed world and our free flowing stream of consciousness, including pervasive anxieties and elusive freedom from cultural conditioning.

Bonello pursues the slippage between imagination and invention, and it isn’t always easy to hang in there with him. As he says, he deliberately alternates from comedy to irony to more frightening moments. By the end, I appreciated the journey even though I wasn’t always sure where I had been at any moment. Coma is In French with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.