Tropic (Tropique) Review – A Haunting Character Study About How Reaching for the Stars Comes with a Cost

The year is 2041, the Earth has exhausted its resources and nations are looking into space colonisation. Twin brothers Lazaro (Pablo Cobo) and Tristan Guerrero (Louis Peres) are students at an elite Space Training academy in France. They are in their final year and are hoping to be selected for the French contingent of the European Space Program for the generational “Eternity Project” which will see them seek out possibly habitable planets for humankind. Their task is far from insignificant, in fact it would appear to be the most significant task any human can undertake in the dying world. There are only three places available for the students and Tristan is the forerunner for selection with Lazaro not quite measuring up to his brother’s successes.

Director Édouard Salier, co-writing with Mauricio Carrasco uses science fiction sparingly. The near future is almost identical to our own with the exception that space colonisation is a serious prospect. In most other ways Salier’s world resembles now to an extent that the audience can forget that it is set in the near future. Although the aspects of science fiction exist Salier is more interested in telling the story of a family and pondering what the greater good is in a situation that could mean the salvation of humanity.

Lazaro and Tristan could not be closer. As Cuban immigrants to France they are bonded by their outsider status and are held and protected by their mother, single mother Mayra (Marta Nieto) who has given up everything for her sons to reach their full potential. Even though Lazaro is lagging behind Tristan in school, and perhaps in life (Tristan has a girlfriend) the brothers are completely supportive of each other. Tristan even suggests that he won’t join the European Space Program if Lazaro isn’t also selected. “We go together.”

During one night of underwater training a space meteorite plunges into the waterway where the brothers are practicing. Something toxic is in it and it causes Tristan to become physically and neurologically damaged. He is now classified disabled and has lost everything, including at times Lazaro. Salier is not subtle about how he depicts Tristan’s condition – he makes him appear distinctly monstrous. Tristan, once the peak of intellectual and physical prowess looks like a Cronenbergian nightmare. He is indelibly marked by his disability and now goes to the same campus that Lazaro is attending as part of their outreach program.

Lazaro and Tristan both need to find a way to accept Tristan’s limitations. The brothers both harbour enormous resentment towards each other. Lazaro cannot stand to see his brother reduced, and Tristan knows that any success Lazaro has in the program comes at his own exclusion. Mayra is desperate to keep her family together but until the brothers can find a place to settle their rage her home is a powder-keg.

Salier is representing Lazaro’s internal and external conflicts. The time Lazaro spends hanging out with Tristan and his friends is having a detrimental effect on his grades. The school suggests that Tristan be sent to a care home for the benefit of Lazaro and Marya reluctantly agrees. She knows she is all that Tristan has and because she is forced into gig work due to her status as an immigrant, if Lazaro gets accepted into The Eternity Project she will be alone caring for her son.

While there are some challenging representations of what disability means in the community, Tropic is aware of it. Lazaro has to find a way to justify his decisions and philosophy in conjunction with his overall mission only go so far to do so. Through the brothers Salier is asking what and who do we sacrifice.

The film is shot on film and is visually abundant in metaphor and symbolism. The brothers, once inseparable, are exposed in images that display how distant they have become. Tristan looking into a mirror where only half of his face is reflected illustrates how he has become a stranger and a horror to himself. The tropic of the title is shown in French Guinea waterways that are anathema to the sterile pools at the training school, or the green tinged eldritch horror of the meteorite infected water that took most of who Tristan was away.

Tropic delves into contemporary and future conundrums. Where it is most powerful is in its raw approach to how the brothers must come to terms with the unimaginable. A powerful synth score by Sebastien complements Mathieu Plainfossé’s evocative cinematography that gives the film much of its emotional impact.

Tropic is far more introspective for a genre film than will be expected by audiences as it is grounded in relationships and fraternity. Within the work are moments of terror but they have nothing to do with otherworldly events, instead they are concerned with what human beings are capable of doing. Ultimately Tropic is a haunting character study mostly of Lazaro, but also of Tristan. Reaching for the stars comes at an enormous cost, but one that Lazaro must learn to accept how to pay.

Director: Édouard Salier

Cast: Marta Nieto, Louis Peres, Pablo Cobo

Writers: Mauricio Carrasco, Édouard Salier

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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