dir: Christian Volckman
[img_assist|nid=887|title=Black and white bang bang|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=449|height=196]
Whilst the French aren’t world renowned for their animation, at the very least they’re not seen as slouches in the cinematic department. France is one of the few countries whose homegrown films compete well with American product in French cinemas, and whose films export fairly well for the arthouse market across the world.

When The Triplets of Belleville came out in 2003, it reminded people not only that France could produce movies that weren’t solely dependent on lecherous older guys lusting after beautiful and super-slutty, irrational, younger women, but that animation wasn’t totally dependent on computer-wielding nerds, a la Pixar, Blue Sky or WETA Digital.

I’d heard a little about a new French animated flick that was about to come out, and for reasons that seem perplexing to me now, I was excited about it. What little I’d heard referred to the animated movie being a sci-fi detective story with Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell influences, rolled up in a high-tech black and white anime style.

So, when free tickets to a preview screening were offered, I snapped them up. After sitting through it, I wanted to demand my money back.

Renaissance is a very well-realised flick on the technical level. It looks great. But it is excruciating to sit through. I found it actively painful to watch. The dialogue, retooled for English-speaking audiences with the likes of Daniel Craig, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm, and Catherine McCormack providing the voices, is ludicrously bad. Dumb as anything you can imagine. Dumb as a dumb thing being whacked on the head to make it even dumber. Dumb Dumb Dumb.

Though it is set in 2054, there is, honest to gods, a scene where a bad-ass cop who plays by his own rules is told to hand in his badge. In 2054! It seems no matter how far into the future we go, there will be some cliches that cannot be gotten rid of, even in super-duper high-tech French! Why the French are obliged to be bound by the same cliches of Hollywood cinema is a mystery of Gargantuan and Pantagruelian proportions to me.

The visuals truly are amazing to behold. For the first ten minutes or so. Then you no longer care. Back when Sin City came out, many viewers commented on the fact that, of every adaptation of a comic book / graphic novel done so far, Sin City was the first to really look like a comic book. The only ‘real’ things in shot were the actors, and the CGI sets and black and white colour really added to the illusion that you were watching an (admittedly sick as fuck) comic brought to life.

Renaissance takes this a few steps further, and renders everything in black and white in the two-dimensional realm, but also uses motion capture to record actors carrying out their various tedious functions, and then digitally overlay imagery on top of them in a process usually referred to as rotoscoping. Rotoscoping has been around since the 1930s, (most infamously used on Ralph Bakshi’s version of Lord of the Rings), and has more recently been seen on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, and his upcoming version of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. All it is, is the seemingly unnecessary technique of filming something once, then overlaying animation over it.

It looks great in the film. But, unless some kind of invisible quantum singularity opened up between me and the cinema screen, thus warping my perception of what actually went on for those 105 minutes I’m never getting back, it doesn’t save this flick from the inevitable obscurity it is destined for.

Karras (Daniel Craig) is a bad-ass cop who plays by his own rules. As part of an elite police unit, he prowls the rooftops and alleyways of a Paris of the future, where development has raised ziggurat-like massive constructions into the firmament, yet the Eiffel Tower is ever-visible from every location. Ilona (Romola Garai), a scientist working at the Avalon Corporation, has been kidnapped. Karras must delve deep within his two-dimensional self and summon up every cop-cliché in the book in order to get her back.

There are several action set pieces carried out in a sterling fashion. Seeing as it’s set in the future, advanced optics (like eye implants that can identify targets in obscure settings, or with telescopic abilities) and cloaking-camouflage suits are commonplace. Several gunfights and a few car chases and fights really look pretty nifty.

Unfortunately, they end. And then characters speak. And that speaking makes me want to punch my eardrums out.

Taking the form of a conventional detective story, when the plot ‘twists’, if they can really be called that, are revealed, I was pretty nonplussed. The story is a non-starter. I can’t really go into why, because I don’t want to spoil the whole plot (though, now that I think about it, I’d probably be doing people a favour); all I can say is that I found it mostly uninvolving, and finally, idiotic.

Maybe I just didn’t understand the flick, despite the fact that it was in English. I sometimes have difficulty with the English language, and not just in its written form. So many words, concepts, and all that effort required to comprehend stuff. It’s just too much. Easier to just coast along, lazily believing that I understand things without expending all the energy required for genuine understanding.

Why a character does what they do at the end of the flick, following the advice of another character, made no sense to me. Suffice to say, I am either a bigger dumbass than many of my detractors believe me to be, or the makers did not make their case well for what the hell we are supposed to care about in the scope of the flick.

I really didn’t get it. And if you understand what happens, but not why it happens, both from the perspective of the characters involved, and from the motivation of the makers, it’s frustrating. In me, it provokes one of two reactions: blind rage, or contemptuous indifference.

Guess which one I’m cruising along with right about now.

As a technical showreel, it’s impressive. It’d be a great thing to have on your CV, in an industry where so many others can only say “I was programmer #2465 who looked after the earhairs on the donkey in Shrek 4”. As an example of their storytelling abilities, it’s a failed experiment because it’s an empty exercise.

Or maybe it’s not that bad. Perhaps I was judging it by the standards I usually apply to movies and other animated flicks. Perhaps I should just have enjoyed the visuals and the action and not bothered analysing and thinking about the actual story. Maybe I’m the mug. Maybe something was lost in translation, like a decent story.

All I know is, in a scene where the hero Karras has a moment of quiet after having just banged the sister of the kidnap victim, Bislane (Catherine McCormack), under a bridge somewhere, he turns to her and out of nowhere says something like, “It wasn’t easy, growing up on the mean streets of the Kasbah.” It made me laugh out loud, and I don’t think it was meant to.

Technology alone does not make for compelling flicks, animated or otherwise. When I compare Renaissance with the recent Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which was complex, visually amazing, and engaging, it doesn’t compare well at all.

And last of all, the word renaissance means rebirth. There’s no rebirth of anything going on here, whether it be literally in the script, or French animation or cinema in the broader sense.

So who are they trying to kid?

4 moments where I was tempted to walk out, and that was just during the interminable opening credits out of 10

“Just close your eyes, and don’t open them again until I tell you to,” – Karras, good advice both for a kidnap victim, and the audience as well, Renaissance.