John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: 'Transfers,' 'Vox Lux' take look at human behavior



There are two behaviors in science fiction that humans will never disappoint with. One is that if there is an advance in technology that extends life or youth in any way whatsoever, it will only be available to rich people. Another is that if humans have any reason to hate and persecute the human results of a scientific leap, they'll hate like crazy.

Bringing both of those dynamics together, this French series, ("Transferts" in French) introduces a word where body-to-body mind transfers have been developed, though mostly used by rich people seeking immortality. Now illegal, there is an elite police squad charged with tracking down those who have gained a new body through the black market. Enter Florian ( Arieh Worthalter) a mild-mannered woodworker, who accidentally ends up in a coma and wakes up several years later in the body of one of those elite policemen thanks to his wife's efforts.

You can see the conflict here, and it's the obvious one to have, but the real surprise is how much better "Transfers" is than it really needs to be. In the body of Sylvain Bernard, Florian stresses out trying to not arouse suspicion by doing his best at the job of tracking down illegal transfers, but that also means trying to keep two fellow cops at bay — his unsuspecting girlfriend, Beatrice (Brune Renault), and his collaborator in secret hate crimes, Gabriel (Steve Tientcheu). As he becomes more immersed in the role he's forced to play, his relationship with his wife becomes a struggle.

At the same time, Florian becomes involved with a body trafficker, Woyzeck, who has been transferred into the body of a little girl (Pili Groyne). When their goals coincide, Woyzeck infiltrates Florian's family with a tough and menacing glee that's one of the highlights of the show — it's a fantastic performance by a kid.

Toss into the mix an all-seeing, futuristic update of Catholicism that pushes its influence into the police, and also features its own depth of corruption, and you have a lot to cover story-wise and a lot of social commentary. But "Transfers" manages to handle everything it grabs, with intense and intriguing storytelling and fully fleshed-out characters brought to the screen through great performances. This series only ever needed to be a silly bit of science fiction fun, but it manages to achieve so much more.

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"Vox Lux" begins with an assault and ends with one as well, though that one is of a completely different nature. What they have in common is their particularly American form of monstrosity, the kind of over-the-top seeking of approval. In between them is an explanation of not only how one begets the other, but how in America innocence is transformed into a monstrosity as part of the award for being innocent. Love is something we pile on as much as disdain, and the outcome can be the same from either.

"Vox Lux" follows the meteoric rise of pop star Celeste (Natalie Portman) beginning in the final days of the 20th century and the early days of the 21st, when it has been said we lost our innocence. Celeste handles that about as well as all of America.

But if "Vox Lux" parallels the life of a pop singer with the degradation of a country, it doesn't do so without pointing fingers at the collective We and our sick obsession with a mental illness popularly known as celebrity, a condition where we take young people who barely have achieved a proper sense of self and stifle that growth by injecting them with a.crippling form of self by committee.

Director Brady Corbet lets the frenzied madness unfold with a studied elegance that grabs us into the spectacle and then tosses us out of it, frazzled and confused. It's a masterful directorial turn perfectly matched by two intense performances, one from Portman and the other from Raffey Cassidy as both young Celeste and Celeste's daughter, Albertine.

Sympathetic to its subject, but entire!y unsentimental "Vox Lux" may be the most honest American movie in ages. It can be tough to enjoy two hours of staring into a mirror, though in this case, it's worth it.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at


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