April 21, 2010

TRIBECA '10: Metropia

Metropia

Why is it that when cinema presents a dystopian world, it's more often derivative of films and literature past than not? Is it that the greatest works of the repressed-future storyline have already been crafted, or that even the most imaginatively decayed milieu is limited by what we know to be true of our modern times? Or more forgivable but far scarier, is it that lurking somewhere in the aesthetic and thematic overlap between these tales is an accurate prediction of what really might happen if and when our resources ran out and the wrong parties came to power?

MetropiaIf Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker and animator Tarik Saleh's noirishly stylized Metropia feels a bit slack in dramatic originality (the hierarchy is Orwellian, the paranoia Kafka-esque—but hey, it's co-written by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's posthumously popular Stig Larsson!), its ambitious vision certainly carries a wow factor. As the last remaining oil dries up and the global markets crash in this new millennium, the all-too-pervasive Trexx Corporation—led by burly man-behind-the-curtain Ivan Bahn (voiced by Udo Kier)—has conjoined all of Europe by a labyrinthine subway system called "The Metro." 2024 is now a rotted landscape of concrete husks above, with the cold steel spires interconnected below. A permanent haze diffuses all color and light, as if all Europeans are in a fog.

Metropia In a grim Stockholm call center, egg-headed phone jockey Roger (an oddly cast Vincent Gallo)—a distrustful and mildly depressive Moby-like everyman who secretly rides his bicycle instead of commuting with the masses—has begun to hear another man's voice his head. Perhaps coincidentally, a Hitchcock blonde named Nina (Juliette Lewis), a dead ringer for his favorite shampoo-ad model and fantasy girl, has turned up in his life on the same day his bike is busted and he's forced to take the Metro. An absurdly convoluted and occasionally dryly funny conspiracy soon unravels about as quickly as it's revealed, with mind control devices implanted at the hair follicle, a familial skirmish between ruler and terrorist, and one subversively exploited Hello Kitty doll. Think Brazil as reimagined by Roy Andersson, though admittedly not as fresh or vital as either.

Metropia But that's perhaps glossing over the film's uniqueness. Last year's Moon won over fans after blatantly building off references from 2001 and other sci-fi landmarks, and even if Metropia doesn't seem to exude the same intent for homage, its idiosyncratic design and dizzying atmosphere make for an exotic experience. Utilizing a proprietary animation method, characters are rendered from actual photos, their shapes and shading left lifelike while their proportions—especially facial features—have been subtly contorted like in Drew Friedman's stippled illustrations. The models look three-dimensional but often move as if 2-D cutouts, a visual discordance that figures into the overall feeling that something is really off in this domain. Background voices have a metallic tenor, and Swedish composer (and sometime heavy-metal vocalist) Krister Linder's droning ambience is as creepy as it is complicated, not unlike some of Sunn O))) and Boris' compositions in The Limits of Control.

Metropia It's a wild construction, but in the end, I wished that the plot twists turned more elegantly and cleverly, the humor was more outlandish to match the scenery, or that the whole piece spilled into something more Lynchian—expressionistic and ambiguous. It's not easy to write science fiction that stands out from the pack, especially when staged in a dystopia. However, Saleh's film shows little more depth than a puzzling sociopolitical analogy about "Big Brother" and the inexplicably frightening unification of Europe, so here's hoping a man of his technical prowess still has, well, a brighter future ahead.

[Metropia screens at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival on May 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, and is available today on VOD in select areas. For more info, please visit the official website.]

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Posted by ahillis at April 21, 2010 12:59 PM