by Paul Attard Film

The Happiness Academy | Alain Della Negra & Kaori Kinoshita

March 29, 2017

“I hope we’ll have fun and party, that’s why I’m here!” This is what Lilly (Laure Calamy) tells an excited crowd of French retreaters in The Happiness Academy. The crowd is there courtesy of the Raelian Church, a religious institution steeped in the belief that aliens have created Earth — the only difference between Lilly and the rest of them is that she’s played by an actress while her audience is not. Part drama and part documentary, Happiness Academy observes the believers as they try to better their lives — in between being fed propaganda by the church’s leader and having extravagant pool parties.

Directors Alain Della Negra and Kaori Kinoshita never cast a blanket judgment on these people, but instead use Lilly as a conduit to explore the more petty reasons some of them may be there (i.e., just to have wild sex). The criticisms feel half-cocked though, never developed or specific enough to have an impact beyond that of mud-slinging. The Raelians don’t come off as much different from any other religion, or at least one that’s based heavily on, er, UFO-worship; they’re often just regular people with different beliefs. It’s hard to then really understand which direction the film wants to go in: It occupies a weird, warmed-over middle ground, generally not particularly that critical, but pretty ugly on the occasions that it tries to be.

Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2017 | Dispatch 2.