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rochefort [Film Festival 10.07.09] Sweden movie review scifi animation dystopic

Year: 2009
Directors: Tarik Saleh
Writers: Tarik Saleh & Fredrik Edin & Martin Hultman & Stig Larsson
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of 10

"Metropia", Tarik Saleh's dystopian sci-fi animated feature about mind control and corporate espionage, features the voices of Vincent Gallo, Stellan Skarsgard, Alexander Skarsgard (Stellan's son), and Juliette Lewis, and integrates familiar elements of Orwellian sci-fi into an experience that is compelling thanks to a wholly distinctive look. Deliberate and dreamlike, it's the kind of film experience that will almost certainly diminish with repeat viewings, and is further proof that the best way to secure a place in the gestalt is to tell the most engaging story possible. On that front, "Metropia" is a disappointment, but don't let that stop you from seeing it. For the moment, its style is a unique one.

In the near future, economic and environmental collapse has led to the creation of a vast interlinked network of subways called the Metro, and life above ground has been largely abandoned to decay. Roger (Gallo), a decidedly average call center worker, is a creature of routine, as is Anna, his frustrated girlfriend, and the only real excitement in his life are his suspicions that she may be having an affair. One day he starts hearing a voice in his head, one that encourages him to follow a beautiful woman who looks a lot like Nina, the spokesmodel for Dangst shampoo, which may itself be the tool by which sinister forces get into the average consumer's brain and slowly turn them into mind-controlled puppets. Nina confronts him, and it soon becomes evident that she knows more about the voices in his head than he does. Undone by his curiosity and attraction to her, Roger lets Nina involve him in a game of corporate dirty tricks and possible terrorism, all while trying to balance his love for Anna with his infatuation for Nina's femme fatale.

Clearly inspired by the likes of "Brazil", "1984", and Hitchcock's "Vertigo", "Metropia" is animated in a kind of hyper-photorealistic style in which the lip movements and physical proportions of the various characters are a bit off, but in a good way. Rather than try and convince us that events are taking place in a plausibly animated, future version of our own world, Saleh has elected to fill the frame with imagery halfway between desaturated fairy tale and nightmare, even going so far as to allow the light and color to bleed out like mist around the edges of each composition. And by color, I mainly mean grey; the palette is consistently and fittingly drab and oppressive, the lasting effect that of a creepy lullaby. I'm not trying to damn with faint praise, either, when I say this movie is going to really help with my insomnia once I have a home copy. And for those of you (us) who can't get enough of the dark, "Brazil"-style take on the put-upon corporate schlub who gets to play dime-store sci-fi spy, this is, at least visually, a perfectly passable addition to your dvd collection.

The story is a let-down, however, and at times plays like a game of spot-the-influence, with whole chunks seemingly lifted from this or that part of the movies mentioned above. The biggest disappointment is the climax, which nicely wraps up the numerous threads but doesn't make much of an impact. Maybe I've read and seen too many stories like this, but I was hoping the stakes would be higher and the resolution more exciting. The cast, however, shines through extremely well and redeems things quite a bit. Even if you're not familiar with the faces behind each name, you can't help but appreciate how the vocal work distinguishes and enlivens each character superbly, something absolutely necessary when everything is taking place in such a monochromatic world.

I've already heard a lot of offhand comments about this one that call it everything from a Liquid Television knockoff to a work of genius, and despite my disappointment with the script I can't see why any fan of sci-fi and/or animation would be quick to dismiss "Metropia". It really doesn't look like anything you've seen before, and there's actually something rather gratifying about the idea that the paranoid, Orwellian story formula is so firmly established that it can be so often revisited. Seek this one out, but watch it with some caffeine in your system.

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