The title of director Christian Volckman’s Renaissance ironically refers to a futuristic society obsessed with beauty to the point that a major cosmetics company has become the most powerful force in Paris. More importantly, however, the film represents a much-welcomed blossoming of adult animation inspired by the gritty graphic novels of Frank Miller and the sci-fi tales of Philip K. Dick. Winner of Best Picture at the Annecy Int’l Film Festival, The Miramax release arrives in select North American theaters today and is a must-see for fans of such neo-noir favorites as Sin City and Blade Runner.
In the year 2054, Paris is a labyrinth where all movement is monitored and recorded in the shadow of the Avalon Company. When 22-year-old Ilona Tasuiev, Avalon’s top researcher, is kidnapped, Police Captain Barth’l’my Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig) must unravel a mystery and avoid being killed in the process. Karas is joined in his quest by Ilona’s sister, Bislane (Catherine MacCormack), who is prepared to take on Avalon to find her sibling. The English-language voice cast also includes Ian Holm, Jonathan Pryce, Romola Garai and Kervork Malikyan.
Renaissance is a visually stunning achievement. A co-production of Onyx Films, Millimages, Luxanimation, Timefirm Ltd. and France 2 Cinema, the film is animated in CG by Attitude Studio and rendered in toon-shaded, high-contrast black and white to mimic the style of Miller’s graphic novels. The visual direction also enables the filmmakers to side-step the ‘uncanny valley’ issue that faces productions involving motion-captured virtual human characters.
In addition to looking great, Renaissance sounds fantastic. Composed, orchestrated and conducted by Nicholas Dodd, the gripping score perfectly complements the computer-generated images and Volckman’s masterful direction, and gives the production a sense of grandeur and scope, even as the action becomes more confined within the sterile corridors of Avalon and the dark tunnels beneath the city streets.
There are some thrilling and inventive action sequences in Renaissance, and I would have liked to have seen more of that. My only minor gripe is that the film gets a bit too mired in a plot that is far less complicated than Volckman and scribes Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelli’re would have us believe. It’s not much of leap to link Ilona’s study of the premature aging disease Progeria with Avalon’s promise to keep citizens looking young and beautiful forever. But even when the story drags, the images are mesmerizing and there are a few good twists and turns to keep viewers interested between car chases and shootouts.
Following closely on the heels of Richard Linklater’s animated adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Renaissance is another breath of fresh air in a year crowded with family-friendly talking animal comedies, entertaining though they may be. Fans of adult-oriented animation can next look forward to Princess, an anime-style feature from Danish writer/director Anders Morgenthaler (The Nelly Nut Show, Araki), which premiered at Cannes and recently enjoyed a Midnight Madness screening at the Toronto Int’l film Festival. A missionary priest abandons his profession to avenge the death of his porn-star sister in the pic, which has drawn comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional.
Renaissance is opening in only a couple theaters this weekend but should roll out a bit wider in the coming weeks. Hopefully, animation and comic-book fans will seek it out as this is one to be seen on the big screen. Los Angeles reisdents can find it at the Nuart Theatre in Santa Monica.