REVIEW: As in Heaven, So on Earth a.k.a Come in cielo, così in terra (2020)

dir. Francesco Erba

Opening with a piano score, a distressed mother asks for forgiveness and begs for mercy, making a TV appeal to the kidnappers of her daughter. Viewers are as yet unsure what’s happened, while the scenes of woodland locations and stop-motion figures initially offer few clues.

Split across three different points in time, director Erba’s feature debut mixes gothic mystery with police procedural, using live-action and puppetry for a unique aesthetic. In 1275 a young girl is imprisoned in the dungeons of an abbey, where an alchemist uses her for strange experiments and a young literary assistant tries to free her. In 2011 two teenagers go missing in the woods while a young woman appears from nowhere, leading to investigations in the modern day as a police officer – fearful for his life – leaves video testimony relating to something he’s uncovered.

In this final time-period the officer trying to pass vital notes to a documentary filmmaker, only to be told he must recount them on-camera. This segue allows the story to unfold before viewer’s eyes, although it plays unnaturally and feels limited by the mockumentary format: this is just one of the issues the wraparound device brings up, as though it’s retroactively connecting short films which barely come together.

The medieval segment is the strongest, boasting wonderful artistry in the use of expressive puppets to communicate emotional depth, despite no words being spoken. It’s a shame this style doesn’t make up the entire film, as the horrific ideas within are lessened when repeated to lesser effect in the live-action segments.

And lastly there are the missing teenagers, a couple with an antagonistic relationship who randomly film themselves as they make frustrating decisions. When they lose their camera in the first segment subsequent scenes are told through a camera apparently attached to their dog, a needless decision which highlights how annoying the found-footage format can be.

As such, despite the imaginative highpoints, there’s rarely any tension felt across the film’s uneven mix of ideas.

⭐⭐

James Rodrigues

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