METROPIA is a derivative dystopian sci-fi flick raised above the parapet by its superb and novel animation and brought back down by the essential ridiculousness of its main concept.
Set in 2024, humanity has been brought low by environmental degradation. The world is enveloped in a grey fog, concrete buildings rot, and litter scatters the streets. In other words, this is the environment of every sci-fi flick you've seen. As usual, big business is the enemy, as embodied by Ivan Bahn (Udo Kier), the head of Metropia - the company that linked all of Europe's metro systems. The project was conceived as a peace initiative - making Europe truly one country - and of course, all of us have horror-flashbacks to the last person who tried that, and indeed the last movie, set on a train system, to explore it, Lars von Trier's superb EUROPA EUROPA aka ZENTROPA. Writer-director Tarik Saleh also takes no chances on his protagonist, a boring everyman call-centre worker called Roger. He's firmly in the vein of Orwell's Winston Smith, or Terry Gilliam's Sam Lowry. He has a lovely girlfriend but he dreams of the hot chick on his shampoo bottle. He's also convinced that something's not quite write on the metro and takes the seemingly outlandish step of riding his bike to work. The movie works as a sort of Hitchcock thriller, in which our hero gets enchanted by a Hitchcock blonde - the beautiful Nina of shampoo-bottle fame. Together they try to work out why Roger can hear a voice in his head telling him what to do.
Now, my fundamental issue with the film is that I find the precise means by which the standard-issue evil corporation is going to take over the world absolutely ridiculous. Because, ladies and gentleman, The Man is going to control your mind through.....wait for it.....anti-dandruff shampoo. Yes yes.
The good news is that this film is so technically well-made and perfectly cast that you can almost ignore the fundamentally stupid concept at its centre. The film-makers have basically photo-shopped the frack out of real photos of real people. The result is incredibly unsettling and alienating - characters that look recognisably human but have been subtly distorted. It gives you the creeps - in a good way. The same can be said of the design of the environment. It all looks like our world but subtly distorted - made to look older - like a WW2 film - but futuristic at the same time. It's wonderfully unsettling. Vincent Gallo is superb as the voice of Roger - capturing the whiny, paranoid but no-nonsense character - and Alexander Skarsgard (of TRUE BLOOD fame) is spookily well-matched as his "inner voice" Stefan.
So what can I say? On balance, do I think this film works? For me, no. But my goodness, it was wonderful to look at.
METROPIA played Venice, Sitges and London 2009. It opens in Sweden on November 27th.