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Zack Mosley [Film Festival 12.10.12] Canada scifi drama

Mars et Avril is the debut feature film by Montreal-based artist Martin Villeneuve (brother of Incendies director Denis), based on his own graphic novel of the same name. A labor of love, the film intends to be smart science fiction with profound philosophical themes. Even the best intentions can go awry, apparently.

Our story opens in futuristic Montreal, as mankind embarks on a mission to Mars. Jacob Obus (Jacques Languirand) is a 70something musician who mesmerizes audiences with strange otherworldly music. The instruments he plays are inspired by the bodies of women, designed by his artist friend Arthur (Paul Ahmarani), and manufactured by Arthur's famous cosmologist father Eugène Spaak (holographic head played by Robert Lepage, body played by Jean Asselin.) Into this triangle arrives Avril (Caroline Dhavernas), a long-exposure photographer with breathing problems who is in love with Obus and feigning romantic interest in Arthur to get closer to him. Arthur designs his latest piece after Avril's likeness, and the resulting instrument vaguely corresponds to a natural topographical feature on Mars. However, Obus has trouble playing the new instrument, and as Avril's breathing problems diminish, he develops his own respiratory issues. It's revealed that the old man is a virgin, despite his adoring female fans and his reputation as a legendary lover.

Beyond that, I can't really tell you what Mars et Avril is about. For the most part, the story is nonsense, progressing without logic or stakes from one scene to another like a tale told by a whimsical child. The oddly affected characters eschew normal human behavior in favor portentous theatrical posturing. The film attempts to convey deep philosophical themes, but it's hard to say what they are. This is the type of thing that confuses general topics such as "the nature of inspiration," "the power of music," and "the meaning of love" with theme. No insight into these topics is actually given, leaving the audience without any type of conclusive message (ie. a theme) to draw from the movie. I don't hate ambiguity, but I do hate bullshit, and it would be hard to decipher a signal in this noise that didn't sound like a meaningless prosaic platitude. References are made to Kepler's "Harmony of the World" theory, which deals with the harmony of the universe and the congruence of objects great and small. The universe is music, guys. Really profound stuff here. All manner of plot contrivance is smothered in this new age snake oil, and I'm not buying it.

The visual style of Mars et Avril fares slightly better than the narrative. Production designer François Schuiten (a Belgian comic book artist) creates a look that's reminiscent of his work in Mr. Nobody. The world is obviously inspired by the fantastic designs of "Metal Hurlant" and Jean "Moebius" Giraud, as well as a number of French filmmakers such as Enki Bilal (Tykho Moon, Immortal (ad Vitem)), Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, Caro's solo film Dante 01) and Luc Besson (La Dernier Combat, The Fifth Element). The score is by Benoit Charest (The Triplets of Belleville) and some of Villeneuve's own Cirque du Soleil experience seems to contribute to the aesthetic. However, even with this pedigree of talent and a noteworthy lineage of inspiration, Mars et Avril often feels like a pastiche of borrowed visions rather than a worthy piece of art in its own right. Moments of true visual originality in this film are rare. And besides, how often does the "turn your brain off and enjoy the pretty pictures!" argument hold up when we're talking about bloated Hollywood sci-fi like Battleship or Len Wiseman's Total Recall?

I can't in good conscience recommend Mars et Avril. We are in the midst of a small revolution in the genre of low-budget science fiction, with films like Timecrimes, Primer, Moon, The Man From Earth, The Ugly Swans, Puzzlehead, Beyond the Black Rainbow and The Sound of My Voice (among many others, some further up the budget scale) doing very smart things with very small budgets. Unfortunately, Mars et Avril falls short of this standard, succumbing to the same narrative and aesthetic problems as any big studio clunker in its own artsy fartsy way.

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dbdbdb (9 years ago) Reply

Wow, imagine the Matrix but move it down the line 10 yrs in thinking from a philosophical how it really works perspective. Must see film, shame only a few might get it.


Aniki (8 years ago) Reply

Interesting film. It's based on a large collection of knowledge related to power and its representations as lust, love and music (amongst other things). A must see for those undertaking identity/power dynamics

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