Elisabeth Moss in search of broken time

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The first three episodes of The Shining Girls are like an initiatory ordeal. It takes constant attention to follow in the footsteps of Kirby Mazrachi (Elisabeth Moss) without getting lost. The young woman is a documentalist at the Chicago Sun Times, she lives with her mother (Amy Brenneman) and her cat. Unless she lives with her husband (Chris Chalk) and her dog. In the early 1990s, Kirby’s reality has slipped away ever since she survived an attempted murder six years earlier that left her body and psyche scarred and shattered her budding career as a journalist.

We know since madmen that Elisabeth Moss is a prodigious actress, and the precision, the desperate energy she puts into playing Kirby Mazrachi are overwhelming and questioning. In its first moments, The Shining Girls almost falls under forensic medicine in its description of post-traumatic symptoms.

Magnificent strangeness

But we also know that the story imagined by the South African novelist Lauren Beukes (published in France under the title The Luminous, at the Presses de la Cité) ventures far into the realm of the fantastic. We saw an ordinary and disturbing man whose name we will learn later that his name is Harper (played by Jamie Bell, who no longer has any of the childish charm of Billy Elliot) approach a little girl and make harmless remarks to her that leave a feeling of obscenity.

In the shifting reality that surrounds Kirby, Harper is the only fixed point. The young woman’s out of whack compass indicates only one direction with certainty, that of evil. By sticking to it, Silka Luisa, the creator of the series, goes from meticulous observation of everyday life to allegory, without one of the two dimensions ever completely covering the other.

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The discovery of the body of a young woman, the victim of a stabbing in all respects similar to that from which Kirby escaped, launches the latter in pursuit of her attacker, in the company of an alcoholic reporter (Wagner Moura). Their successive discoveries open up temporal chasms resistant to all rationality, since Harper seems invulnerable as the years pass. Until a moment as spectacular as it is elegant, at the end of the fourth episode, The Shining Girls in another dimension, the existence of which can only be mentioned to preserve its magnificent strangeness.

Before we even get there, there is so much to say. From Elisabeth Moss of course. The writing of his character allows him to change register, voice, physique – without losing sight of the essence of the character, this irreducible force which enabled him to survive where the others perished. And, whatever the merits of Wagner Moura or Phillipa Soo – who embodies one of the prey hunted down by Harper, a brilliant astronomer, whose trajectory risks being broken like Kirby’s –, The Shining Girls is above all a duo that unites and opposes Elisabeth Moss and Jamie Bell. If he finds a point of support in the poetic invention that presides over the destiny of his character, to reconcile the extreme banality of his resentments and his impulses and the enormity of the crimes that Harper commits, it also requires a talent extraordinary.

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