TIFF 2023 | Spirit of Ecstasy (Héléna Klotz, France)— Platform

By Michael Sicinski

A fairly conventional film in punk attire, Spirit of Ecstasy suggests what might have happened if Lisbeth Salander had decided to go into finance. Claire Pommet, the singer-songwriter professionally known as Pomme, plays Jeanne, a 24-year-old military brat with an icy demeanour and a dizzying facility with applied calculus. They’re trying to secure an analyst position at a number of hedge funds, and finally appears to have transformed an unpaid internship into their shot at the big time. Jeanne is middle-class but, in their stolen designer suit, aims to remake their image as one of the “boys.”

Spirit raises the question of gender somewhat obliquely, and this is Klotz’s most compelling creative gesture. Although we might read Jeanne as nonbinary, they explain that they are “neutral,” much like the formulae that occupy their thoughts. “Is the number seven masculine or feminine?” they ask their fast-talking, oleaginous boss (Sofiane Zermani). At first, Jeanne thinks they’ve found a mentor and is starting to come into their own. But then, a major setback forces Jeanne to re-evaluate their priorities. They are torn about leaving their family behind, and, to make matters more complicated, Augustine (Niels Schneider), an old flame, has just gotten back to Paris following a four-year tour of duty. 

Pommet’s ample charisma carries Spirit of Ecstasy only so far. Klotz, whose parents made the business-centric La question humaine (2007), has a feel for the macho swagger and fuzzy-math gobbledegook of global speculation—perhaps a bit too much so. The film has no real opinion whether bankers in the upper echelons are immoral or even especially useful. Like Jeanne, Spirit of Ecstasy is rather neutral. The most compelling aspects of Klotz’s film exist in the margins (for example, Augustine giving Jeanne a buzzcut as unexpected foreplay) and in Pommet’s detailed portrait of someone whose position outside society’s binaries has afforded them a clear-eyed view of money as the abstraction that rules us all.