Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Immortal / Immortel (Ad Vitam) (France, 2004)

OK, at least this time around, the film—unlike the more recent French sci-fi flicks Dante 01 (2008) or Eden Log (2007)—isn't a total mental mind-fuck, although it does try hard enough to be one. Perhaps it's due to the fact that aspects of the story, cobbled together from a trilogy of French comics (Carnival of the Immortals, The Woman Trap and Equator Cold) written and drawn by the film's director Enki Bilal, were published in Heavy Metal back in the mid-80s. As a result, as diffuse and messy as the plot is, it is also somewhat familiar; thus, for all its pretensions and artiness and "visionariness", Immortal never really becomes completely alienating, dislikable or annoying as it probably should be. Which is not to say that it is a good film, for it is not, but it is an interesting film, and that alone is already an improvement over many other films—including both Dante 01 and Eden Log.
Set in year 2095, Immortal takes place in a NYC populated by mutant and half-artificial humans, extraterrestrials and, as of late, a floating pyramid housing a variety of ancient Egyptian gods, one of whom, the falcon-headed Horus, has to mate quickly with a “rare” type of woman or lose his immortality. The beautiful and blue Jane (Jane Hardy, Miss France 1992) an adult that is biologically three months old and whose organs are not in the right place, and is thus taken under the wing by Dr. Elma Turner (Charlotte Rampling of Zardoz [1974 / trailer], The Night Porter [1974 / trailer], Farewell, My Lovely [1975 / trailer] , Angel Heart [1987 / trailer], and Boogie Woogie [2009 / trailer]) as a "professional guinea pig", is the rare one—but to shoot his fertile load, Horus needs the body of an unaltered human, a rarity in a world populated by humans that exchange their organs at the drop of a hat. Into this equation comes Nicopol (Thomas Kretschmann of The Stendhal Syndrome [1996 / trailer]), a dissident serving his 30-year-sentence in suspended animation that is prematurely thawed out due to a technical malfunction, losing his leg in the process. Horus uses Nicopol as his host, fashioning him a steel leg from an old subway track, and proceeds to find Jane and bonk her as much as possible. As the real Nicopol and Jane begin to get nearer—a courting hampered by Horus’s occasional use of Nicopol to rape Jane—the political powers that be first release a mutant red hammerhead shark man to eliminate Nicopol and then, when it fails, a mutant red hammerhead sharktopus...
A wildly visual film, the plot Immortal is extremely ornate and often loses itself and the viewer before tying its often thin and divergent strands together in an untidy, loose bow. The acting is also extremely uneven, but perhaps that is expected from a film in which half the characters are literally not real: the three actors named above are to be seen in Immortal, but most of the other characters are computer generated—a bit too obviously computer-generated, actually, but well enough that the initially somewhat jarring contrast comes less and less jarring as the film goes on.
But the characters of Immortal are not the only computer generated aspect of the film. Like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004 / trailer), Casshern (2004 / trailer), and Sin City (2005 / trailer), Immortal was filmed in front of blue- and green-screens, with all the backgrounds added later in post-production. The result is pure eye candy, an extravagant and stunning world rendered in the same exquisite detail as Bilal's original comics. However: all the eye candy, combined with the scattered, elliptical story and the intriguing mixture of real and manufactured characters, results in a film that is fascinating to watch but that also fails to totally involve the viewer, and as a result, the desire to like the film becomes greater than the ability to do so.
To get your sources right, by the way, Bilal's floating cars, aliens and humanoid style-victims are not references of Luc Besson's excellent film The Fifth Element (1997 / trailer), as is often assumed, but rather the visual extremes of Besson's much more satisfying masterpiece are all derived from the comics of Bilal that were published in France more than a generation before The Fifth Element was made. Besson simply managed to convey his derivative of the original far more successfully than the actual original when it was finally brought to screen.

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