Immortel (Ad Vitam)

Sitting through Immortel is, for lack of a better word, an experience.

Genre(s): Drama, Science Fiction

Director: Enki Bilal

Actors: Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann, Charlotte Rampling

Year: 2004

MPAA Rating: R

Country: France

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The film is a dreamy, surreal, CGI- and bluescreen-heavy sci-fi fantasy adventure film that plays out in an overly complex and often convoluted manner but remains strangely, and almost hypnotically, engaging. Long story short: I liked it, but I’m not entirely sure why.

The story (which is admittedly scattered) is set in the New York City of the distant future, where many people are genetically engineered and pieced together using body parts from different sources via a company (or a process?) called Eugenics. The city itself is a grey, decaying metropolis that is, oddly enough, a little reminiscent of the film Metropolis. Cars can fly, but the cars themselves look like vehicles from the early- to mid-1900s. Buildings are mammoth, high-tech and stretch to the heavens, but their décor and fixtures seem to have been holdovers from the 1920s. Hovering above the Big Apple is a giant pyramid and inside is a seemingly Egyptian (?) god named Horus. Horus (who’s computer-generated and voiced by Thomas Pollard) has the body of a super-buff human man, but the head of a falcon, and he’s a little melancholy. The other gods have given him seven more days to live and to experience the humans he seems to enjoy so much. Naturally, he has one thing on his mind: sex!

Horus, it turns out, wants to reproduce. Thing is, he’s a god, and there is only one “human” woman who can handle the magnitude of such an unearthly pregnancy. Her name is Jill (Linda Hardy) and is in the process of being studied by a fascinated scientist named Elma (Charlotte Rampling) because she’s only, biologically, three months old. (I know, it’s hard to follow, but try to stay with me.) Jill is kind of like Milla Jovovich’s character in The Fifth Element — a beautiful and mysterious humanoid woman with funky hair and magical powers. While Jill is being poked and prodded, an anti-Eugenics revolutionary named Nikopal (Thomas Kretschmann) is accidentally released from a cryo-prison a year too soon. Aside from his mission to eliminate Eugenics, Nikopal and his body turn out to be the ideal host for Horus, who needs to inhabit a human form in order to have sex with Jill.

What unfolds is a twisty, freaky story about genetics, love, fear and really outrageous hairstyles. Like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow almost every single scene is shot on a bluescreen, and all but three characters – Jill, Nikopal and Elma – are completely computer-generated. Without question, the visuals and art direction are the stars of the film, and the often-baffling story takes a major backseat. It was easy to get lost in the gorgeous backdrops and hazy colors and stylish sets…only to be jolted back to reality by wondering, “Okay, so what’s going on again?”

The live actors do what they can with the often-clunky dialogue and still manage to create interesting characters. Hardy, like a blue-haired, French Angelina Jolie, makes for a striking heroine, but I found myself liking the CGI Horus better than the flesh-and-blood (and curiously directionless) Nikopal. I have no idea how Charlotte Rampling landed in this film, but she’s always good and makes the best of her relatively small role here.

Again, forget trying to wrap your head around the plot of director Enki Bilal’s fantastical mess of a story, which he based on his own series of graphic novels, because you’ll likely wind up more frustrated than fulfilled. Instead, just revel in what you see and forget about  everything else.

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