STARRING: Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis, Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgard, Alexander Skarsgard

2009, 85 Minutes, Directed by:
Tarek Saleh

It’s 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 products.

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 better.

- Rob Vaux



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).