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In the near future, oil reserves are nearly depleted and Europe is connected by series of underground tunnels. While navigating these tunnels, Roger hears voices, one in particular. Seeking a way to rid himself of the voice only leads Roger deeper into a bizarre conspiracy of control - mind and body. Written by
Pusan International Film Festival
Worth screening for the simple marriage of form and function it represents.
One gets accustomed to certain styles of animation, not to mention certain themes. It's either for kids or adults, and it's either 2D or 3D. Of course there are exceptions but for the sake of simplicity, this Manichean duality dominates the market. It's rare that a film emerges that challenges these notions but Tarik Saleh's Metropia does that in fairly interesting ways. The style is an bit of a mash-up between 2 and 3 D - the frames are digitally composited from head shots that have been stretched and squashed then placed on smallish bodies creating creepy caricatures of the actors being photographed. The effect, visually, is of the puppetry in a Thunderbirds (or Supercar) episode as designed by Drew Friedman, with a heavy dose of dark Gilliam"esquire." despair. The animation is stiff, stylized and intentionally rough and jerky. Metropia is not super deep at it core, but it reminds me of the Heavy Metal comics I used to devour when I was a teenager, and that's not at all bad.
It's 2024, the world is running out of oil, and Europe has been connected via a huge subway system. The skies are always gray and it rains all the time. Roger, our protagonist, a bald, hydrocephalic, stoop-shouldered everyman, is afraid to take the metro because he has been hearing voices. He lives with his girlfriend who seems to always be on another planet. One morning, Roger is forced to take the metro because his bike (which he was using illegally anyway) has been destroyed. Sure enough, he begins to hear voices, a voice that has been seeping into his life away from the Metro, on top of everything. On that fateful subway ride, he sees Nina, the spitting image of the girl on his shampoo bottle - a shampoo called Dangst, if that gives any clue as to the relative depth of the film in question. On impulse - despite the urging of the voice in his head - Roger follows Nina, and discovers the world, not far beneath the surface, is not quite what it seems.
As I mentioned, the concepts are pretty thin. The requisite global corporate conspiracy, the rampant consumerism in a dysfunctional dystopia, and the soul-dead protagonist in a souls dead world, are requisite tropes for a film like this. Of course, They have been executed more competently, and in more depth, elsewhere, but the strength of Metropia is its visuals. It is animated for a reason. To that end, the spare, creepy animation style suits the film perfectly. By now, whiz-bang 3D animations are the norm, the rule, so it's at first disconcerting to see animation used so sparingly, minimally and strangely. But this is the point. The world has had all the life and energy sucked out of it, it's no wonder there's not much energy left for the inhabitants of said world. The familiar grey palette allows for even the most subdued tan coat and blonde hair of Nina's to stand out. This lack of movement is also a symbol of conformity. Literally, don't stand out.
Despite its familiar themes, Metropia is worth screening for the simple marriage of form and function it represents. It's a brave filmmaker, who, in this age of Avatar, chooses to make a quiet, simple, creepy film. Saleh, gives us a film, not breathtaking in it's scope, or necessarily ground breaking (except for what it doesn't strive to achieve: mindless spectacle) but calm, understated and worthy, for serious fans of animation, and the brand of sci if familiar to fans of Heavy Metal (the magazine, not the movie).
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