By far the most absurd Star Wars parody is coming this year

By far the most absurd Star Wars parody is coming

The underside of a huge spaceship slowly moves into the picture. The camera eagerly follows every single centimeter of the mighty colossus. He moves sublimely through space. However, we wait in vain for the command bridge of a Star Destroyer. This isn’t a Star Wars film, it’s Bruno Dumont’s The Empire. On top of the ship there is a cathedral.

It’s just one of many bizarre images in what is probably the most unusual competition entry at this year’s Berlinale. Every time you think you’ve discovered one of those iconic images from George Lucas’ star saga, Dumont comes up with one oblique idea around the corner and turns expectations on their head. Not even Spaceballs and (T)Raumschiff Surprise – Period 1 can keep up.

More absurd than (T)Raumschiff Surprise and Spaceballs: The Empire is an extremely strange Star Wars parody

There are many Star Wars parodies. But The Empire is on a completely different level. On the one hand, Dumont has one classic copycat created who emulates the great role model just as enthusiastically as Mel Brooks and Michael “Bully” Herbig, for example with the scene mentioned at the beginning, which quotes the opening of Star Wars. Of course, lightsabers shouldn’t be missing either.

Tessalit Productions

The Empire

On the other hand, there is a film that defies all conventions, although it strings one familiar Star Wars motif after another. The Empire tells of two powers that fight their conflict in space and on Earth. The zeros are the empire, the ones the rebellion. The star war is started by the Birth of a chosen onewhile a sinister emperor makes his plans.

The thing is: Hardly any of it looks like Star Wars. Dumont’s characters spend most of their time in one tranquil place on the Opal Coast of France. They go to the beach, walk through the streets and stand around very awkwardly most of the time. At first glance you might get the impression that you’ve landed in the wrong film. But then the dialogues begin.

The characters talk like they’re in a Star Wars movie, but hardly anything looks like it

When Luke Skywalker talks about womp rats and visits to Tosche Station at the beginning of Star Wars, it’s easy to accept. One exists around him perfectly designed world, into which such technical terms simply fit, not to mention the mythology that is later established by power. With Dumont, this world does not exist. And yet the characters talk like that.

The conversations are about power shifts in the galaxy, the meaning of zeros and ones in the universe and a passionate love story, which seems like fan fiction of the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren in the sequel trilogy. Things crackle between Jane (Anamaria Vartolomei) and Jony (Brandon Vlieghe), even though they are on two different, hostile sides.

Tessalit Productions

The Empire

The Empire even takes on the Star Wars franchise character and turns out to be secret spin-off to another Dumont work. Between all the flying cathedrals and beheadings with three-bladed lightsabers, two visibly overwhelmed police officers suddenly appear: Lieutenant Rudy Carpentier (Philippe Jore) and the even more confused Commander Roger Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost).

Both characters come from the miniseries Kindkind, which premiered ten years ago in Cannes and received a sequel in 2018 with Quakquak and the Non-Humans. Now it’s expanding Dumont Cinematic Universe into the infinite expanses of space and still prefers to spend time on the white sandy beaches of northern France. Because this is where the fate of humanity will be decided.

Between anti-blockbuster and Star Wars declaration of love: The Empire is everything and nothing

But what exactly is The Empire? That’s not so easy to answer. An anti-blockbuster that captures the spectacle of films like Star Wars completely alienated? Or secretly trying to capture a hint of it? After all, Dumont watches his gigantic spaceships with just as much enthusiasm as Denis Villeneuve does when he launches an ornithopter in Dune.

There is no simple answer to this question. The Empire is everything and none of that. Even as a parody, the film defies expectations. Sometimes you wait for minutes for a punch line that never comes. Then three bangers follow in one fell swoop. No rhythm, but also No compromise: Whatever enticed Dumont to make this strange film, it has to be seen to be believed.

The Empire is in competition at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival. A German cinema release has not yet been determined.