- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

“Sin City” turned the silver screen into a comic book writ large; “Renaissance” wipes away any traces of the actors.

The French feature, using English-speaking voices for stateside audiences, tells a standard film-noir story through high-contrast black-and-white visuals. Directed by Christian Volckman, the film uses motion-capture technology to make sure the actors are standing in the proper places. From there, it’s all artistry, and the illustrators steal the show.

Sad to say, the story is merely second best.

We’ve seen much of it before: the future world in which humanity is dragged down ever deeper into a vat of immorality and genetic wonders. While “Sin City” offered bloodier spectacles and true comic-book elan, “Renaissance” unfolds like an old-fashioned potboiler with plenty of pulp.

It’s 2054, and not a day goes by in Paris without someone or something capturing it all. Corporations run more and more of our daily lives, and that’s especially true of Avalon. The company purports to sell products to make us younger and more beautiful. When Ilona (Romola Garai), a dedicated young researcher, goes missing, the company calls on a tough cop named Karas (Daniel Craig) to find her.

The more digging he does, the more nefarious information comes out about both her and Avalon.

Though “Renaissance” is European by design, much of it plays out like a riff on an old detective story.

Audiences aren’t likely to tire of the amazing compositions on display, and great care is taken to incorporate the “old” French landscapes with the modern design. The dialogue often devolves into something you might hear in a ‘50s serial, in which the wiseguys are talking tough about a sassy dame — but given the context, it’s forgivable. Besides, the conceit that the future is a nightmare is both too easy and too familiar to wrap a film around — no matter how lush it may be.

The story itself is, at times, too complex. Once we’ve grasped the higher meaning, the tale weaves off in yet another direction. We’re engaged by the cool dialogue voiced by Mr. Craig, but the animation leaves much to chance. The faces are flat and motion-free for much of the time. Ultimately, the look is stunning, but we’re still longing for a few knowing glances from which to pull a compelling secondary character — or even a first one, for that matter.

The vocal actors, save Mr. Craig, do us few favors. Their line readings are as drab as the Botox-faced people they’re inhabiting.

Now that Mr. Volckman’s “Renaissance” has raised the bar for what a neo-noir can look like, it will take another auteur to show what this new genre can really do.

**1/2

TITLE: “Renaissance”

RATING: R (Violent imagery, adult language and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Christian Volckman. Screenplay by Matthieu Delaporte. Original visual concept by Marc Miance.

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.renaissance-movie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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