Monday, July 18, 2005

Immortality

December 1999, J-F and I vacationed in Paris. The brink of a new millennium, amid apocalyptic prophecies, and just before devastating storms swept the city and the rest of Europe.

All travels, I think, are marked by a theme or concept, often identified only retrospectively. Our trip wore an air of chaos, a sign of the times; we were gasping for breath and raging out of control. We celebrated a fierce love, as if enjoying a last hurrah on the eve of the world's end, though I realize now it signified the transition from the wildness of youth to adulthood and commitment.

Our trip had a soundtrack. And J-F purchased Enki Bilal's La trilogie Nikopol. He'd been a fan for years. The images were new to me.


© Enki Bilal.
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The work is now available in English, and the first two parts of the trilogy have been translated to film (with many identical frames).

Immortel ad vitam ("Immortal" in English), directed by Enki Bilal, is a stunning blue-grey dystopia with a brooding soundscape.

The acting is atrocious. We'd assumed (wrongly) the film was in French and set it to play with English subtitles (for my benefit). We were lucky on this point — the French voice-acting carried far more pathos (and being the language of the original better evoked the scripts of J-F's adolescence). In particular, English is foreign to the actors playing Nikopol and Horus, and it shows.

The story is weak. Elements of it are full of promise, but none is ever explored.

The year is 2095. Aliens (the ancient Egyptian Gods) hover over the city. Horus has been condemned to death (we don't know why) but he returns to Earth in his final days, searching for a human host (Nikopol) by which to mate to continue his legacy.

In 2095, humans modify and upgrade body parts. Corporate and political interests involve the eugenics laboratories. Human society seems to be sharply stratified.

The film version has changed Nikopol's backstory. Now he's a revolutionary whose spirit has infected the masses. An interesting angle, but one that's not exploited.

The locale has been changed to New York City. The futuristic vision is striking, yet I feel the city itself was not as much a character as it could've been. Bilal would've wandered the streets of his own city, Paris, the story's original setting, more lovingly and to much greater effect.

The movie is still beautiful, with a visual and spiritual poetry. At times, I was reminded of Wings of Desire in the texture of the city, the home they're passing through, and, not least, thematically, as the blue-haired woman, an alien and destined to be Horus's "vessel," forgets her past and learns to be human. We catch occasional glimpses of her own perspective swimming through our world.

Nikopol is struck against a wall and seen to be "crucified." Horus mentions those very few special women — no one knows when or where they will appear — who are able to carry the seed of a god. None of the imagery or allusions is carried far enough to call any of it an allegory, which is a shame, because these are pretty cool notions and it seems to me the Earth of 2095 may need salvation.

This film is terribly flawed, but outstanding in evincing a strange and unique vision of our future. Others will argue it's not so original, pointing to Bladerunner and The Fifth Element, or any number of sci-fi movies featuring corporate city-states or genetic manipulation. Immortel is all these with a twist, just a little weirder, a little richer, stretching the ideas so they are part of the fabric, without condescending to explain them.

It is one of the first movies to use an entirely digital backlot and uses only three human actors. I am mystified by some of the animation choices: why so obviously crude in places? why not real people? However, the Egyptian gods were rendered beautifully and naturally, I thought (though many people disagree).

All this is to say: I really liked this movie, but I don't know why.

Trailer and extracts available on the movie's official site (in French, but it's better that way).

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