Saturday, February 03, 2018

Animation First: Renaissance

Life is cheap in the dystopian future, but it still has value. Not much, but some. However, the tenuously balanced social order faces a threat to its equilibrium. Brilliant genetic researcher Ilona Tasuiev has been kidnapped, presumably by shadowy forces who want to control the questionable “playing God” technology she has developed. Dogged copper Bathélémy Karas will do his best to rescue her in Christian Volckman’s Renaissance (trailer here), which screens during FIAF’s Animation First: New York’s French Animation Festival.

Due to childhood trauma, Karas is not inclined to stand on ceremony, or search warrants, when innocents are endangered. The Tasuiev Sisters had similarly chaotic childhoods, before Ilona’s scientific genius was recognized and scooped up by the pharma-chemical multinational Avalon. Bislane Tasuiev had been her protector while they lived in the anarchic Eastern European region, but she was living off her sister in Paris, like a parasitic club kid.

Feeling a kinship based on their comparable backgrounds, as well as a mutual attraction, Karas pledges to Tasuiev he will recover her missing sister, safe and sound. As he pursues the investigation, the cop will interview her venerated mentor at Avalon, Dr. Jonas Muller, and their scummy boss, Paul Dellenbach. Clearly, the road to Tasuiev will criss-cross Avalon several times over.

Employing rotoscope mo-cap techniques that were pretty cutting edge for 2006, Renaissance is a strikingly noir work of animation that is even more visually distinctive than Alois Nebel. Unfortunately, the narrative is mostly just a string of loosely connected dystopian clichés. (If you think a corporate behemoth like Avalon is a dubious trustee of potentially dangerous technology, then just try the government.)

Still, in terms of world-building, Renaissance is amazing. You can clearly see elements of Metropolis in the design of 2054 Paris. Even French auto giant Citroën contributed, by projecting how their cars would look fifty years into the future. This is truly auteurist animation, so it is rather depressing Volckman has yet to release a proper new feature during the nearly twelve years since its initial theatrical opening.

The ever-so ironically titled Renaissance is a fitting selection for the celebration of French animation, because it is worth seeing, just to see its amazing visuals. Arguably, Volckman dramatically utilizes reflections and odd POV perspectives more than just about any prior animated film. It is actually fair to call it “visionary”—imperfectly plotted, but visionary in its execution. Highly recommended for animation connoisseurs, Renaissance screens tomorrow (2/4) as part of Animation First, which also includes the excellent Red Turtle and Day of the Crows, as well as the classic Fantastic Planet.