2006, Movie, R, 105 mins


Set in a glossy, futuristic Paris and gorgeously animated in starkest black-and-white — even SIN CITY (2005) contains shades of gray — French animator Christian Volckman's futuristic mystery out-noirs BLADE RUNNER (1982), at least on a purely visual level.

2054: In a world of war and chaos, Paris is a handsome oasis of inky, slightly ominous serenity, and the mysterious Avalon Corporation has a finger in every aspect of its citizens' lives. Ostensibly a purveyor of health and beauty products and services ("We're on your side… for life," intone the huge, animated billboards that loom over the shadowy streets), Avalon is deeply invested in sophisticated generic research that may be yielding far more than wrinkle-reduction potions. When brilliant, 22-year-old Avalon researcher Ilona Tasuiev (voice of Romola Garai) is kidnapped after an argument with her black-sheep sister, Bislane (Catherine McCormack), headstrong police investigator Barthelemy Karas (Daniel Craig) is assigned to find her. Karas starts with Bislane, who knows more than she's telling but less than she thinks, then moves on to Dr. Jonas Muller (Ian Holm), a former Avalon researcher who now runs a free clinic for indigents where Ilona regularly volunteered her time, and then to Avalon CEO Paul Dellenbach (Jonathan Pryce), who is simultaneously overbearing and evasive. Karas is undeterred, and uncovers a trail that leads first to Ilona's current project, a "protocol for immortality," and then to an earlier, top-secret experiment that forced Muller to abandon his cushy post at Avalon.

Written by Mathieu Delaporte, Alexandre de La Patelliere and Jean-Bernard Pouy, the script's fusion of B-movie crime cliches and dystopian futurism, if not exactly original, is nonetheless vigorously engaging, and the English-language voice cast is good enough to make the existential noodling seem like real dialogue. The motion-capture character animation is hauntingly fluid, and you can sense real flesh under the broad washes of black and white; even the stylized faces have an eerie expressiveness that's neither entirely human nor conventionally cartoonish. But the film's real star is Volckman's Paris-to-be, an elegant jumble of beaux arts apartment buildings sitting cheek by jowl with soaring skyscrapers, a vast, glass-ceiling shopping complex built below the base of the Eiffel Tower, and dark, centuries-old sewer tunnels winding beneath the streets. Glossy with rain or freckled with drifting snowflakes, it's gorgeous and menacing at the same time. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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