-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
cast: Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann, Charlotte Rampling, Frederic Pierrot, and Thomas M. Pollard
director: Enki Bilal
99 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 16:9
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Adapted from two of the graphic novels in his 'Nikopol' trilogy, Enki Bilal's film is
effortlessly pretty, engrossing and frustrating by turns. Set in a future New York,
which for several years has failed to contact the inhabitants of a pyramid hovering
above it, the film follows several people (and a god) as their lives converge around
the pyramid and what it means for the city.
Jill (Linda Hardy) is a woman who may not be fully human who is guided by a mysterious
masked figure (Frederic Pierrot) towards a destiny she wants but can't remember. Nikopol
(Thomas Kretschmann) is a humanitarian serving time in an aerial prison who finds himself
minus a leg and possessed by a god in short order. Horus (Thomas M. Pollard) has seven
days to procreate before being killed by the other Egyptian gods inside the pyramid. Throw
in the political machinations of New York, Horus' unpleasant habit of killing unwanted hosts
and a doctor (Charlotte Rampling) fascinated by Jill, and you have a promising beginning.
Throw in Bilal, one of the most fascinating visionaries of European comics, and you have
the potential for something genuinely great.
Unfortunately, that's not quite what is delivered. The decision to shoot the film with
a combination of physical sets and CGI is a brave one but isn't entirely effective. The
locations are captured wonderfully, the claustrophobic feeling of Bilal's New York perfectly
captured down to every cramped, overcrowded alley and the ever-present pyramid. Bilal's work
is arguably the definitive cyberpunk look, and fans of Blade Runner and The Fifth
Element will find a lot to enjoy here. There's the same sense of claustrophobia and
insanely overcrowded, vibrant life mixed with Bilal's rich sense of deadpan humour. There's
also a real sense of the mundane, people still stand in lines, get drunk, have sex and drive
badly - it's just the world around that's changed.
This laconic feeling is perfectly captured by Kretschmann as Nikopol. Best known to viewers
as the captain in King
Kong, he's huge fun to watch here, combining the battered, insomniac look of Harrison
Ford at his best with a world weary, off kilter sense of humour. Hardy, gifted with a thankless
role as Jill, does her best work in her scenes with him and their highly unusual relationship
is both fascinating and oddly sweet to watch. Similarly, Pollard's turn as Horus is strangely
endearing, made all the more impressive by the fact he's portraying a murderous omnipotent
rapist. Despite this, his scenes with Nikopol border on the playful and the banter between
the two of them is huge fun to watch.
Unfortunately, where the film falls down is in its decision to mix fully realised CGI
characters with the actors. At times, it works beautifully but unfortunately, the quality
isn't consistent. For every scene with a CGI character (most notably the first time we see
Charlotte Rampling) seamlessly dropped into the footage there are two which clearly sit
above it, visibly less complex than their physical surroundings and looking badly out of
place. It may be a stylistic choice to bring some characters closer into line with the
distinctive art style of the original graphic novels but, unfortunately, it never quite
works properly. Whilst the script also has some problems, with several ideas never being
fully explored it's the physical effects that ultimately do the film the most damage.
Despite these problems,
(aka: Ad Vitam) remains hugely entertaining and unlike anything else you'll watch
this year. It is boundlessly inventive, often grimly funny and packed with more ideas than
most of this year's big movies could hope to explore. It's just a shame that the film never
quite seems at ease with its special effects.