STARRING: Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis,
Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgard, Alexander Skarsgard
2009, 85 Minutes, Directed by:
hard to complain too loudly about Metropia’s comparative lack of original
storytelling because its chosen medium is so striking and different . . .
It’s technically a form of
animation, the sort which literally couldn’t exist a short time ago. Director
Tarek Saleh starts with actual actors, then distorts their visages to cartoonish
proportions: giant heads, enormous eyes, skinny necks and undersized bodies
moving with surreal twitches.
It resembles nothing
you’ve ever seen before: disturbing and dreamlike, with the sense of something
very wrong lurking just beneath the surface. Saleh finds a suitably appropriate
canvas for his methodology as well: an Orwellian future of grimy buildings and
hopeless souls. The sheer novelty of it almost merits a viewing all on its own;
I guarantee you won’t forget it easily.
Unfortunately, the novelty
value becomes more detriment than asset sometimes, drawing our attention away
from the story for no real reason other than to remind us that it’s there.
Furthermore, while said story matches the canvas extremely well, it can’t escape
the clichés of other dystopic futures, presenting the same old grimy, paranoid
universe with little flair or variation. It’s easy to become enraptured by the
vision itself, enough to forget it has little substance at its core. Hollywood
event pictures play the same games and get crucified for them. Only the cloak of
indie film pretension saves this effort from their fate.
In addition, Metropia
often embraces weirdness for the sake of weirdness, even as it revels in the
superficial power of its vision.
"Skinny necks and undersized bodies moving with surreal twitches!"
In the near future, the
planet’s resources have been depleted and giant corporations control everything.
A massive rail system connects every city in Europe, allowing travelers to go
from Moscow to Dublin in 45 minutes. Humanity consists entirely of faceless
office drones, shuffling back and forth between dingy flats and oppressive work
spaces made bearable only by the purchase of vaguely disturbing consumer
Would-be immigrants participate
in a sadistic game show where the winner receives asylum and the losers are
jettisoned into the sea on a hydraulic catapult. Dandruff shampoo—appropriately
named Dangst—subjects its users to a subtle form of mind control, enabling the
world’s oligarchs to tighten their grip on the population.
Into this world, a hapless
everyman named Roger (Vincent Gallo) stumbles into a Kafkaesque nightmare of
conspirators and shifting allegiances. Supposedly, the fate of humanity hangs in
the balance, but Metropia primarily wants us to soak up the dark
atmosphere where clowns throw ducks at balloons and nothing is as it seems. It
plays the trick reasonably well, but after the first half hour or so, you begin
to wonder what else it has to offer.
Sadly, the answer is “not
much.” The pattern of bug-eyed nobodies haplessly dodging their pock-marked
tormentors and labyrinthine mental games that lead straight back to where they
began soon grows wearisome, and Saleh’s efforts to immerse us in post-industrial
existentialism fail to bring any new ideas to the equation.
Instead, we get warmed-over
1984, coated with the sheen of new technology but
otherwise as tired as the shelves of “dark futures” paperbacks clogging your
local five-and-dime store. Metropia proves surprisingly timid at points,
relying on the odd crowd-pleasing moment and
Twilight Zone twists to prop up its central premise. Even the finale fails
to move things beyond the pedestrian, wrestling with an ending that the
preceding eighty minutes denies with all its might.
Saleh brought an impressive
cast together here (including Juliette Lewis, Udo Kier and the two Skarsgards,
Stellan and Alex), and his imagery speaks to a creative mind well-suited to
cinematic experimentation. But the visual boldness requires a stronger engine to
drive it forward: something which not only harnesses superficial textures, but
invests us emotionally in the proceedings. A new and exciting type of filmmaking
is at work here, a way of approaching the medium which has only begun to be
explored. Metropia stops at that and assumes it’s enough: a wasteful
tragedy which defers its stunning potential in favor of the banal and the
predictable. We can only hope that the format eventually produces something
- Rob Vaux