Renaissance review by Jackass Tom

The long wait is over. For reasons beyond my control (a failed meeting with a friend and a work related trip to Japan), I was unable to catch a glimpse of Renaissance at the Chicago International Film Festival last year (2006). All I knew at the time was that it was an animated black and white sci-fi noir set in the France 50 years from our present. That was good enough for me. As luck would have it, I got my second chance to view the film and didn’t balk this time.

Renaissance opens with a dramatic sweeping shot of Paris in the future in a dark crisp animated black and white. Young Ilona Tasuiev, a valued genetics researcher is kidnapped outside of a Parisian night club for reasons unknown. She is a valued employee for one of the most powerful companies in Paris known as Avalon. At Avalon, genetic science is used to halt and reverse aging as a sort of futuristic cosmetic. Barthélémy Karas is the hardboiled, “lives by his own rules” investigator who is on the trail of young Ilona. Karas is the kind of detective who feels safe in the dark corners of the city where the unmentionables roam. He shoots first and asks questions later. He is the classical cowboy/renegade cop who crosses the line between law and lawlessness in order to meet an end.

Karas interviews several people as any good police investigator might do. That list includes the offputting co-worker of Tasuiev, Professor Paul Dellenbach as well as Pierre Amiel, the man at the helm of the Avalon mega-corp. When Karas finds Ilona’s sister, Bislane strange things begin happening. One man who was seen with Ilona the night before turns up dead the next day. A few more odd clues point to Ilona’s disappearance coinciding with her attempt to acquire secret information. Suspicions arise as her kidnapping no longer seems random.

The story of Renaissance is interesting but its not as enthralling as the visual style. Renaissance is a sci-fi, noir in roughly the same ballpark as Blade Runner only it is completely animated using a technique called rotoscoping. A similar technique was used most recently with A Scanner Darkly and to a lesser degree Sin City. In the case of Renaissanse, most of the movie is in high contrast black and white (only a few scenes have hint of color. The black and white is very stark, with very little gray (only used for relflections and clouds); in terms of photography its like using a 5 filter. The effect creates a black and white mood similar to Third Man (substituting Paris for Vienna). The style of the movie is enhanced by the beauty of the city. The darkness of the shadowing enhances the mystery that the city hides in its alleys and sewers. The whole movie has this dark brooding mood

While the visual style takes the highroad, at times the dialogue takes the low road. It’s wrought with hackneyed clichés and cheesy one liners that suffer even greater pain as the readers run through them like the first day of acting class. I imagine the blah dialogue is a result of writing the script in two languages. On IMDB, it notes two sets of actors for each role: one in English and one in French. Since this is a French film, most likely the English side fell to second place and didn’t get as good a treatement. Unfortunately this lack may have been undetectable in parts, had they been read with more conviction or in some scenes played down. But some faux pa’s are beyond repair. For example the “May the prophet be with you” line between Karas and Farfalla is sad attempt at recreated a neo-“Good Luck” or “God Bless” but sounds more like a 1st year film school inadvertent Star Wars rip off. It slips out awkward, clumsy and forced; almost laughable

Renaissance is a fine film with plenty of eye candy for a film buff. The final story is satisfactory for sci-fi fans, but nothing mind expanding and nothing that hangs with you days after viewing. The script, even with errors and flaws, is excused by the grandeur of art on screen. For black and white noir buffs especially this will be a visual feast. The movie borrows thankfully from Dark City, Third Man, Blade Runner, Psycho, Silence of the Lambs and the Matrix series, and does so with class. Renaissance should be available at your local video store, but if not request it. Its worth a solid viewing.

7 out of 10 Jackasses
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