Monday, April 26, 2010

Tribeca ‘10: Metropia

Even in the future, it is depressing in the subways. At least one could expect increased efficiency in an authoritarian speculative dystopia. However, the Trexx Group, the company that operates Europe’s continent-wide metro system, is up to something decidedly nefarious down there in Metropia (trailer here), Tarik Saleh’s animated science fiction feature for adults now screening during the Tribeca Film Festival.

Roger is an unremarkable Winston Smith, living a mostly anonymous existence in a world not unlike the 1984 Macintosh commercial. Some of his coworkers think he is crazy though, because he often illegally bikes to work, rather than taking the Metro. He also thinks he might be crazy because of the voice in his head. However, a chance encounter with his dream woman, Nina, the model on the label of his dandruff shampoo, leads to some revelations about its parent company, the all-powerful Trexx. Initially intimated when confronted by the woman of his fantasies, he is even more taken aback when she bluntly asks about Roger’s “inner voice.”

Metropia is definitely animation for adults, with advanced themes, terrorist attacks, and a fair amount of cartoon nudity. Yet despite its reliance on the standard evil corporation cliché, it still manages to put a fresh spin on traditional dystopian science fiction. Indeed, it is refreshing to see a film extend its paranoia to sacred cows like the European Union and public transportation.

However, it is the darkly compelling signature look of Metropia’s animation, perfectly suited to the grim bleakness of the scarred urban future world, which truly distinguishes the picture. While eschewing strict realism, its figures, based on original photos heavily distorted through the computer animation process, are oddly expressive. To complete his strange characterizations, Saleh called on some unconventional voice talent, including the surprisingly effective Vincent Gallo as Roger.

Though the general trajectory of Saleh’s story is relatively predictable, there are some clever bits along the way. Visually dazzling, Saleh, animation director Christian Ryltenius, and art director Marti Hultman produced an intriguing vision of the Fabian EU utopia gone to seed. Wisely, it also resists the urge to explain every last detail, leaving future avenues to explore should they return to Metropia’s world for future installments. Smart, mature science fiction, Metropia is worth checking out during the Tribeca Film Festival. It screens again on Wednesday (4/28), Thursday (4/29), and Saturday (5/1), as the festival continues, mostly at the Village East and Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.