Jupiter!, which received the Special Jury Prize from the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, immediately and outwardly echoes the political satire of writer-director Armando Iannucci. The comedic short film follows Jupiter, the son of a recently elected party president in the French government, who loses control when tasked with handling the delivery of an important ham to a Christmas party.
The dialogue is snappy and electric, laden with profanity and absurdity. All of the characters are either awful people or just as offensively apathetic — a monologue toward the middle of the film states that thesis explicitly — and Jupiter is oftentimes both. The editing is sharp, with the pacing roaring along during the 26 minutes (before credits) that feel like merely 15. And the camera is always on the move, even zooming in on characters, pausing and labeling them, a comedic move similar to one Iannucci made with his most recent political satire The Death of Stalin, but one that calls back even further to working class Russian films from the early 1900s, like Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike (1925).
The actors are all rather delightful, especially in the chemistry between them, much like Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin cast. Carlos Abascal Peiro’s direction of the ensemble ensures that the roaring energy is maintained, as the performances occasionally explode with anger, specifically an anger at the machinations of politics, and never pause to breathe. They even veer nearly into slapstick, with physical tussles playing a role in the absurdity.
Jupiter! does struggle with what nearly all short films struggle with, and that’s crafting what feels like a full story. There’s an effective setup for the first half, but the director rushes through the second half, essentially skipping the middle of the story.
But the ham, which is implied to be a rare and expensive ham, is where Jupiter! steps to the next level and makes up for any of its flaws. It’s a clear and obvious visual metaphor for the absurdity of politics and the people who play that game, manifested into its own storyline and smartly handed to the character most frustrated with politics. And Jupiter wrestles with it, quite literally at points, and whether or not he should deliver the ham to his mother’s party.
The game over the ham is the game of politics. But rather than ending with clarity and banging viewers over the head with the metaphor, Jupiter! unexpectedly ends with meaninglessness, which is a breath of fresh air. Oftentimes, shorts will hammer home their endings, but Peiro executes his conclusion quickly, and with full confidence. And though there isn’t much of a resolution to the story, the film finds thematic resonance in that very fact. Politics can be a sickening game, and justice sometimes evades the worst offenders, which can be the most potent source of anger. And as political protests have run through France over the past three months or so while the country, much like the world, deals with the rise of the Far Right, Peiro’s message of meaningless holds immense meaning.
Kyle Kizu (@kylekizu) is a freelance film writer out of Los Angeles. His writing has also appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, Fandor, Crooked Marquee and Film Inquiry.