Take “Metropolis,” “Blade Runner” and “Sin City,” set them in Paris in 2054, run their widescreen visuals through an ultra-high-contrast B&W photocopying machine and you’ll have a semblance of “Renaissance,” a melancholy actioner that shines a new light on film noir. A sort of “The Third Man” for the 21st century, chiaroscuro curio’s level of graphic invention is exceeded only by its pleasingly mournful approach. Fans of live action melded with a graphic-novel sensibility should consider this a must.
Characters are composites of live actors whose movements were modified after motion capture — not unlike Tom Hanks in “Polar Express.” Resulting human movements are convincing and the human faces are just expressive enough, with a Dick Tracy-like hint of stiffness that’s closer to comic-book panels than digital filmmaking.
Suspenseful, though not entirely unfamiliar, narrative follows an intrepid cop assigned to find a kidnapped, 22-year-old female scientist. She works — as does just about everybody — for mega-corp Avalon. But something that happened back in 2006 casts a long, mysterious shadow over his investigation.
Pic’s monochrome, visually startling universe portrays a future that’s exceedingly cool but not too futuristic, including a nod to Op Art of the ’60s. The Metro is still running, and the Eiffel Tower and Sacre-Coeur are both where they belong.
However, wedding-cake layers of architecture — conjured by Alfred Frazzani, who also contributed to the Manhattan of 2095 in Enki Bilal’s equally striking “Immortel Ad Vitam” — have been grafted on to the ancient lodgings, bridges have been altered and there’s a groovy see-through esplanade at the base of Notre Dame cathedral.
Incorruptible cop Karas (Robert Dauney, voiced by Patrick Floersheim), a specialist in missing persons cases, is determined to find kidnapped Ilona Tasuiev (Isabelle Van Waes/Virginie Mery) before somebody — or something — gets there first. Karas forms a wary alliance with Ilona’s big sister, Bislane (Crystal Sheperd-Cross/Laura Blanc).
The two women were rescued from the Caucasus when Ilona, a brilliantly precocious scientific researcher, was only 13. In Paris, older geneticist Jonas Muller (Marco Lorenzi/Marc Cassot) has been her mentor, but Paul Dellenbach (Max Hayter/Gabriel Ledoze) of Avalon is her tenacious employer.
It’s a testament to the production design that one quickly gets caught up in the story without ever completely losing the “ooh-ahh” factor. Ominous, wall-to-wall music bolsters the appropriately uneasy mood, and the bittersweet conclusion is satisfying.
For the record, pic features 120 characters against 90 Parisian backdrops. Producers reckon the budget for a conventional telling of the same story would have been E200 million ($240 million), compared with the $18 million it reportedly cost.
Debuting helmer Christian Volckman and his crack team of computer artists and animators (of whom Marc Miance was the main innovator) have carved out a tiny niche in filmmaking history, just as the designers of “Tron” and “Matrix” did.