Animation technology seems to be advancing at exponential speed. Each Pixar
film easily out-wows the last, and computer-generated releases are now par-for-the-course for kiddie fare. So its no small achievement that the French drama Renaissance, the feature debut from director Christian Volckman
, has one of the most intriguing visual styles in years.
Volckman combines motion-capture elements, computer animation, and meticulous black-and-white art for a unique style and fitting medium for his hard-boiled futuristic detective story. The city is Paris. The year is 2054. And the plot centers on a kidnapped girl, a steely cop, and a sci-fi conspiracy involving medicine, government and commerce. Article continues below
Normally, it might take viewers a few revelatory scenes to get involved in a multi-layered potboiler, but you don't really get that opportunity here--your brain is too busy adjusting to the aesthetic. Renaissance's stark black-and-white imagery is just that: black, and white. Grays and shadows don't seem to surface (if there even are any). What's left is a palette of extremes, rich black and shockingly bare white, making both a visual statement and a narrative one.
If you think I'm overstating the design, take a look at the trailer and imagine that starkness on the big screen for 105 minutes. Even the director agrees. Following a September festival screening, he asked viewers, "Everybody's eyes okay?" The film's a thrill to watch, it's just not always easy to look at.
Much of that thrill, though, comes from the enormous detail developed by Volckman and his crew. Every girder and stone of tomorrow's Parisian architecture is in full view, bringing a near-astounding richness to a world comprised of only two colors. The director has listed influences ranging from Fritz Lang to Blade Runner to the Sin City
comic novels, and you can sense that entire artistic portfolio.
In the film's finer set pieces, Volckman takes full advantage of the infinite flexibility of an animated "camera." His direction involves grand, swooping shots, whiz-bang transitions and a kinetic energy that makes all that 3-D really mean something. One highlight is a thrilling auto chase that starts from a bird's-eye view and ends street level, in a section of the city where the Metro runs underground while pedestrians walk above on a surface of glass. The sequence looks incredible, but it's also presented with a veteran's feel for tension and pacing.
It's the longer view where Renaissance loses its sci-fi steam. As the hardened hero, Karas (Daniel Craig
), trails the clues and connects the dots, the film gets unnecessarily lengthy. The noirish dialogue, while certainly snappy in doses ("People around me disappear. So we do have something in common."), is too thin to carry longer scenes to a level worthy of the concept and visuals.
Renaissance is still something to celebrate, especially for comic novel fanboys who will revel in the feel of the film (and then send hate mail my way, based on experience). Volckman, with screenwriters Alexandre de la Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte, handily include many detective movie prerequisites -- a corporate heavy, the reluctant love affair -- and blend them nicely into the finer details and larger universe.
With so much movement, contrast and action, it becomes clear after just a few minutes that Renaissance should be seen more than once. Just not all of it.
Note: Although the film is French in origin and setting, the original animation was created for the English language voice cast, in an effort to make the movie more attractive on the international stage. You're not getting a cheap dub job: The English language version that's being shown now is what the filmmakers initially intended.