“Club Zero,” a teen-cult thriller from director Jessica Hausner, may have Cannes Film Festival attendees thinking twice about ordering that second croissant on the Croisette.
The movie, which preaches the art of “conscious eating” and will definitely force viewers to consider the way they consume food, may be one of the more polarizing titles to debut at this year’s festival. Still, it earned a five-minute standing ovation at Monday night’s premiere.
In the film, Mia Wasikowska, a favorite from “Jane Eyre” and “Alice in Wonderland,” stars as a nutrition teacher from hell at an elite prep school. It all starts innocently, as teen cults are wont to do, with Miss Novak instructing her students that eating less is healthy, for themselves and for the environment. By the time the other educators and parents take note, an unthinkable reality has already started to unfold.
The film prompted at least one audience member in the orchestra to walk out in the middle of the film, during a disturbing scene in which one student who forced herself to vomit begins to eat her throw up as her parents watch in horror. Audience members in the theater who stayed seated were covering their eyes and gasping in shock.
There were moments of levity in the screening, some of which had nothing to do with the movie itself. Just as a voice over the speaker asked the audience to not use their mobile devices, a phone alarm went off, prompting giggles through the room. Moments later, there was more laughter when people preemptively began to applaud a moment too soon. During premieres, it’s customary to clap as title cards for production companies scroll on the screen. But here, after a number of film logos flashed one after the next, people began to applaud as a warning appeared about the danger of eating disorders. They promptly stopped upon realizing the mistake.
“I would like to thank Mia and the crew who worked with me together,” Hausner said, as she and her cast took in the cheers. Hausner and Wasikowska walked arm-in-arm into the premiere after walking the red carpet with younger cast members of Mathieu Demy, Elsa Zylberstein, Amir El-Masry and Sidse Babett Knudsen. “Thank you all.”
Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman predicts that “Club Zero” is going to become a title that launches a thousand conversations. In his review, he wrote the film “won’t be for everyone, but Hausner, channeling some combination of Hitchcock and Cronenberg and ‘Village of the Damned’ and the Todd Haynes of “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,’ has now made an even more gripping and provocative mind-fuck.”
“Club Zero,” which is playing in competition, is Hausner’s sixth feature and second in the English language. Her latest film, “Little Joe,” premiered in competition at Cannes in 2019 and landed a best actress award for Emily Beecham. The Austrian director is a regular at Cannes, where nearly all of her prior films have screened.