(director: Christian Volckman; screenwriters: Alexandre de la Patellière/Matthieu Delaporte/original visual concept, Marc Miance; editor: Pascal Tosi; music: Nicholas Dodd; cast: WITH THE VOICES OF: Daniel Craig (Barthelemy Karas), Catherine McCormack (Bislane Tasuiev), Romola Garai (Ilona Tasuiev), Ian Holm (Jonas Muller), Jonathan Pryce (Paul Dellenbach), Pax Baldwin (Farfella); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating:R; producers: Aton Soumache/Alexis Vonarb/Roch Lener; Miramax; 2006-France/Luxembourg/United Kingdom-in English)

“A pic of true craftsmanship that dazzles until it wears out its welcome and becomes a drag.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Renaissance is a good looking visual treat in high-contrast black and white (no greys); an experimental animation film in a comic book style that’s set in Paris circa 2054. It looks and feels like Hollywood film noir from the 1940s that’s made into a sci-fi police procedural film (think “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report”). French director Christian Volckman explores the ethical difficulties of genetic manipulation and bases it on a “visual concept” by Marc Miance and an original screenplay by Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patellière, Patrick Raynal and Jean-Bernard Pouy. Volckman uses similar techniques to Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” The technique, called action motion capture, uses bare-bone graphics that are matched with realistic animation to get its unique look. In this Anglicized version, the original French dialogue has been re-voiced by British actors – Daniel Craig, Romola Garai, Catherine McCormack, Ian Holm and Jonathan Pryce. The striking German expressionism images have a raw abstract visual power that reminded me of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” Too bad the narrative couldn’t match the visuals in intensity, as the noir story seemed too dim.

The Paris of the future still has reminders from the Paris of the past with its labyrinth streets and skyscrapers (designed by Alfred Frazzani). The Eiffel Tower is still intact, but not alone as the only such elevated structure. But there are major differences–the City of Light is isolated from the outside world “for its own protection” and is now the “city of darkness.” In the crumbling dark interiors the people dwell and the criminal underground exists, and the Metro runs. If one ventures outside, there’s a constant black rain falling. Also, in this paranoid dystopian tale every move one makes in public is monitored. There are talking billboards for a sinister utopian monolithic conglomerate called Avalon, which evidently owns the city. The beautiful gal in the ad cheerfully promises Parisians health, beauty and long life. When Avalon’s 22-year-old lead genius scientist, working on premature aging, Ilona Tasuiev (voiced by Romola Garai), is mysteriously kidnapped, seasoned world-weary, hard-nosed, stoic Detective Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig, the newest James Bond) is assigned this very important case which has implications that could mean saving the world. His main source for information about Ilona is her older and protective sister, Bislane (voiced by Catherine McCormack), someone the detective falls for. As the narrative unfolds (in what I might add is a not too clear fashion) the two are drawn into contact with a conspiracy of evil genetic research (it involves a secret genetic experiment done in 2006 by Ilona’s mentor).

Though the visuals are beautiful, their stark graphics make it hard to keep the characters straight. The other faults are that the mundane story is too droll, the dialogue lacks the lingo of imaginative pulp, and the supporting characters are dull. They are Ilona’s cagey boss and mentor, the geneticist Dr. Jonas Muller (voiced by Ian Holm); Avalon exec Paul Dellenbach (voiced by Jonathan Pryce); and sleazy gangster Farfella (voiced by Pax Baldwin).

I’m afraid this chiaroscuro thriller’s appeal is almost entirely through its cutting-edge animation and bleak monochrome images that have a stunning effect on one’s sensibilities (there’s even a splash of Technicolor added briefly at one point), as its story is merely superficial. It’s a pic of true craftsmanship that dazzles until it wears out its welcome and becomes a drag.

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