Rotoscoping the Future: Renaissance


2005, 105 mins., France, French with English subtitles

Director: Chirstian Volckman

Screenplay: Alexandre de la Patelliere, Mathieu Delaporte, Jean-Bernard Pouy, and Patrick Raynal

A film that channels Metropolis, Blade Runner, and the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell (the first in Working Stiffs, the third in Cinema of Globalization) is remarkably daring and to do the whole shebang in rotoscoping (animators tracing over live action footage) is especially nervy. A little rotoscoping goes a long way, however, but that may likely to be (my) generational attitude.

Once I let myself go and accepted the chiaroscuro black and white world of the future—Paris in 2054, supposedly—this re-fashioning of the Blade Runner plot through a French sensibility offers a convincing noir megalopolis of dreadful night. Most of the action seems like a comic book, oops, graphic novel, that you don’t have to turn the pages to read.

The plot involves the usual number of double crosses and mystifying alliances characteristic of high French policiers, but without the charm. Think of the classic Diva (1981) without the classical music or the Viet-French lassy dressed up like a popsicle (in the wonderful description by film critic Pauline Kael). The bad guys run a corporation, Avalon, that has acquired not only the femme fatale Ilona (played by Isabelle Van Waes, voiced by Virginia Mery) but also the solution to a premature aging disease. Cool cop Karas (played by Robert Dauney, voiced by Patrick Floersheim) has to find her and expose this corporate power: along the way he has various adventures with characters who—alas for me—look remarkably alike in rotoscopic fashions.

This futuristic film noir plays out in a megalopolis that is both Paris and not-Paris: we see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Sacre Coeur, but they are all kind of connected by high tech walkways and elevated structures of all kinds. It has a beautiful if indistinct charm. By now when a shadowy corporation runs giant digital billboard ads like “ We’re On Your Side, For Life,” any self-respecting film fan reaches for his metro map that says (in French, of course), This Way Out.

Further Reading:

Nesselson, Lisa. “Renaissance.” Variety, 28 March 2006. Celebrates this “chiaroscuro curio’s level of graphic invention” with a “pleasingly mournful approach”: “Fans of live action melded with a graphic-novel sensibility” should make this “tiny niche of filmmaking history” a must-see.

Holden, Stephen. “Even in a Place Like Paris, It’s Not Good to Live Forever.” New York Times, 22 Sept. 2006. A mixed review: “T he style makes a convoluted story of corporate greed, high-tech espionage and science run amok even more difficult to follow. This is a plot that goes on as many tangents and wild goose chases as The Big Sleep.”

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