A technology park on the Côte d’Azur promoting computing, electronics, pharmacology, biotechnology and higher learning was designed in hopes of creating a special type of community. Decades later, despair and isolation are common and the discovery of the charred corpse of teenaged girl connects multiple lives in "Sophia Antipolis."
While the French and Europeans may be familiar with Sophia Antipolis as the name of a place, most Americans might assume it is the name of a person. Called after the park's founder's wife Sophie as well as the Greek word for wisdom combined with the ancient name for nearby Antibes, the park also shares the name Sophia with the murdered girl who haunts the story and who we just may have met in the film's opening minutes. Cowriter (with his "Mercuriales" partner Mariette Désert)/director Virgil Vernier doesn't so much tell us a specific story as soak into the emotional feel of a place by following several different ones and this park, intended to create an international community, instead has evolved into a microcosm of society's ills.
The film opens on an interview with an 18 year-old blond seeking breast implants, the (unseen) doctor pushing back due to her age, but not disallowing the surgery outright, the same thing he does with the next young girl seeking larger breasts for an acting role. In a documentary-like fashion, Vernier follows this patient right up to the cringe-point of surgical incision.
We then meet an attractive Filipino woman with a young boy we are surprised to hear is her grandson, but who is, in fact, the grandson of her deceased husband, a man twice her age who procured her through mail order. Other than seeing this child every Wednesday, she has enough money and an apartment to live in, but nothing to do, at least until a Jehovah’s Witness-like person comes knocking at her door (later we will see both of them consistently turned away from others).
In cheap looking, anonymous conference space, a hypnotist plies his trade before we see a montage of people relaying their dreams. After having viewed a dire climate change report on TV, a backwards sunset plays at being dawn. A woman and her teenaged daughter stop at a cafe and bluntly ask a badly burned man about his injuries. He replies very matter-of-factly, a happier victim than the one whose discovery traumatized one of the black security guards who found her. They travel around the park in a golf cart, rousting teenagers from public property,
but when they encounter a vigilante gang of neighborhood enforcers, all white, they join them in tearing down a homeless migrant camp, destroying structures and burning tents. Vernier concludes by offering a 'reenactment' of what happened to Sophie that merely hints at her demise.
The film's documentary style is furthered by Tom Harari and Simon Roca's 16mm fly-on-the-wall lensing as we mostly observe from a remove. What the film begs for, at least for non-European audiences, is more context. We never get any kind of history or overview of the park. Even establishing shots are rare. But even without understanding where we are, "Sophia Antipolis" offers a bleak anthropological look at a contained modern society.
Robin gives "Sophia Antipolis" a C+.
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