Today it’s time to review Renaissance, an animated movie from 2006 that had been lying on my shelves for quite a while before I finally got round to watching it. Renaissance is a French movie directed by Christian Volckman. I stress that as the version I bought (quite cheaply at Play) was the dubbed version. Like Persepolis, it’s not always easy to choose between the French and the English version. You may not get Iggy Pop here, but the English version features voices by Daniel Craig (as the main character), Ian Holm, Jonathan Pryce, Romola Garai (18-year-old Briony from Atonement) and Catherine McCormack. Makes you almost opt for the dubbed version instead. Like Italian movies from the 60s and 70s (where the sound was post-recorded for economic reasons), I also tolerate dubbed versions for animated movies… it’s not as if there was an ‘original’ version to begin with. But this brings me to my main criticism of the film – I know, I haven’t even spoken about the story and I’m already criticising it: the English dub is not the clearest version there’s ever been. It took me a couple of sentences to figure out whether I was listening to French or English and after a while, I decided to give my ears a rest and switched on the subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Maybe now is a good time to start talking about the story. Renaissance is set in futuristic Paris. The year is 2054 and Karas, a detective whose actions outweigh his words, is asked to find a missing scientist. This scientist (young, beautiful and talented Ilona) was last seen arguing with his older sister Bislane at a seedy nightclub. Karas tries to find out whether her recent work – she was working on a cure for progeria – had anything to do with her abduction while sparks begin to appear between him and Bislane.
Paris in the year 2054 looks futuristic enough, mainly in the odd architecture and the oversized tv sets which boast commercial messages. It’s not the first sci-fi movie to feature gigantic tv sets blasting out slightly ominous commercials. Renaissance actually prides itself in looking up to a gigantic sci-fi classic, Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner. Another influence the makers often mention is the work of James Ellroy, who combines city life (in Ellroy’s case LA, in Volckman’s Paris) with dirt and film noir elements.
Most classic film noirs were made in black and white, which brings us to the look of Renaissance. The movie is shot in black and white, with a couple of exceptions. The drawings made by a character are in colour. I see why this was done, but I found it disturbing (even if it made me remind movies like Paprika). It is perhaps not a bad idea to mention how the animation was achieved. It all started way back in 1996, when Volckman directed the short movie Maaz (which can also be found on the English dvd). Like Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings (Gollum, if you suck at sticking actors to their characters), computers noticed the 3D movement of actors and used that to create an animated look. Maaz was still in colour, but Renaissance went one step further. The makers had heard of black and white animation that deleted all the grey scales in between those two spectres and loved the idea for their upcoming movie. The result is what can be described as truly a black and white movie. Occasionally that – especially combined with the unclear dialogue – hurts the realism of the movie, but overall it helps to make Renaissance look different from other movies.
Renaissance has a good plot, but there’s not much to drag it over to an exceptional level. It’s good, but rarely does it get beyond that point. Which makes you focus even more on the film’s gimmick of using only black and white. I loved the look of the film and I also loved how the makers managed to include influences from their favourites into their own movie, without becoming too much of a copycat.
As for the English dvd, I already mentioned the short movie that was the origin of Renaissance. I found Maaz attempting to look weird without offering anything extra. The result is a disappointing 3/10. More interesting is a “making of” documentary which lasts 26 minutes and talks about the way the movie was created and the film’s influences.
All in all I often find myself interested in dystopian movies, but rarely can they live up to my expectation. To a large extent, Renaissance can. The result is a proud 7 out of 10.