26 January 2008

Movielog, Renaissance

Renaissance, 2006
Written by Alexandre de La Patellière and Mathieu Delaporte
Directed by Christian Volckman
105 minutes

Paris, 2054. In a world clearly modelled on Blade Runner, Ilona Tasuiev (voiced by Romona Garai), an employee working in the medical research departments of the monolithic Avalon corporation, is kidnapped. A police foce led by Lt. Barthelemy Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig) is tasked with finding her. Along the way he meets Ilona's sister, Bislane (voiced by Catherine McCormack), who also works for Avalon, and who may be keeping secrets of her own...

Yes, it's pretty much pure sci-fi noir, mixed with liberal doses of American action-movie. But instead of being live-action, this story is told through a modern version of rotoscoping, in which motion-captured actors are placed into completely CGI environments that are pure black-and-white, with no shades of gray. The result is unique and honestly offputting at first -- it seems like such an extreme stylistic choice that it actually detracts from the story.

But the director and the set designers have done their job, and as the story unfolds there appear images of such striking beauty that the story almost seems superfluous. One scene between Karas and Bislane takes place in her apartment, "shot" against the half-ghosted images in the full-length windows while rain streams down outside. Another takes place in an office like no other I've seen in cinema -- placed in a glass box that serves as the capstone of a giant arch. Probably not a great place to work for the vertiginous, but the camera pull-back at the end of the scene is amazing.

The action is well-done, especially one particularly invigorating chase scene that ends in a park. Karas is a believable action hero who owes equal parts to John McClaine and Dirty Harry, but who also has the kind of noirish presence needed for the slower-paced dramatic sequences. Several action scenes use invisibility suits like the kinds used in Ghost in the Shell, and despite the technical difficulties in animating such sequences, the action scenes are always visually understandable, and the geography is always clear.

The story is intruiging, if not quite as clever as it thinks it is (a crucial element of the scheme to kidnap Ilona was a lot more obvious to me than the writers thought it would be, which makes their attempts to hammer it home, well, all noise with no result). It's pretty much straight neo-noir, although it manages to keep a few surprises until the end. In particular, the film's one and only use of color is in service of a character and a plot point that is at once astonishing and heartbreaking.

Ultimately, this film is very derivative of other films like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. If it had been made in a more conventional way, this would be a lot harder to forgive. Here the technology and the artistry somehow speak for themselves, and make elements that have otherwise been very familiar seem new again. The voice acting is superb, the direction solid, and the look of the film is like a cross between Frank Miller's Sin City graphic novels and William Gibson's Neuromancer. The story works for what it does, and left me wondering what these filmmakers have in store for the world next. It's not the greatest film ever, but it comes well-recommended for fans of the genre.

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