Renaissance is one of those films that seems to have flown under most peoples’ radar; it only flew onto mine through being one of those films that gets released on a cheap bundle disc with another film I was interested in seeing (Equilibrium, reviewed here). But once I was aware of it, I felt it was a film that I needed to check out, and not just because it was now in my DVD collection. The film is an animated movie directed by Christian Volckman, produced in France and released in 2006. It’s an animated film, with a noir-ish plot description, set a half century into the future, and it’s one of an increasing number of animated films that aren’t aimed at children. Additionally, Daniel Craig, one of today’s undisputed action stars, provides the voice for the lead character in the English dub.
But what drew it to me the most is that it has a very distinct visual style.
Do not adjust your set.
The film was shot using motion-capture CGI and a post-process filter to convert it to a very high-contrast black-and-white film (so high contrast that there’s very little grey in the film). It’s a very striking effect, and takes a little getting used to at first, but quickly becomes appealing. One side benefit of the style is that the animators don’t need to worry about getting skin tones right to avoid inhuman appearances; motion capture further helps to prevent the “uncanny valley” effect, although there is still some stiffness of movement and expression in some scenes.
The story is set in Paris, 2054, although technology has only advanced slightly from today. Biotechnology in particular has become advanced, with one company, Avalon, having a stranglehold on the market with anti-aging biotech. When one of their lead researchers, voiced by Romola Garai, is kidnapped, police captain Karas (Daniel Craig) takes charge of the case to find her. This brings him into conflict with the head of Avalon (Jonathan Pryce), as his investigation leads him into delving into the past, classified, research by a former researcher (Ian Holm). In classic film noir fashion, the investigation also leads him into a sexually-tense relationship with the abductee’s sister Bislane (Catherine McCormack).
The characters are fairly standard roles, but there are some nice nuances here and there, aided by the voice acting of the more skilled actors (Holm in particular gives an excellent performance). The contrast between the two sisters, Illona and Bislane, is shown before the abduction with Illona being more about control and responsibility, and Bislane being a partygoer. After the abduction, we still see Illona in several scenes as she pleads with her off-screen captor; the loss of control seems to bother her as much as the abduction itself, and she attempts to reassert herself despite her situation. Bislane, meanwhile, becomes aggressive in her desperation to find Illona, and almost hostile to the police, who she feels aren’t working fast enough. Karas, meanwhile, fits very much in the standard noir lead role, being short-tempered and world-weary. This jadedness is justified with the corruption that has seeped into Paris; when citizens observe an assassination attempt with little apparent interest, it’s as telling as the scenes that demonstrate how much power in the city is in the hands of either the Avalon corporation or organized crime.
The city of blights.
What brings the film down, unfortunately, is the writing. The dialogue is fairly pedestrian, but the real problem is the plot. Most of it is entertaining, but it’s nothing special and nothing we haven’t seen done better elsewhere. And the ending is a definite let down. Without spoiling it, suffice to say that there is a party involved who is not responsible for the abduction but is portrayed as the ultimate villain in the piece. And the movie does not succeed at making its case for this party being the villain, nor for the consequences taken out on that party. It could have worked, under the right circumstances, but it came too abruptly and with insufficient justification, and left a definite sour taste in my mouth.
Ultimately, I have to classify Renaissance among the number of potentially good films brought down by their endings.