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Fantastic Fest Review: Metropia

By  · Published on October 6th, 2009

There’s not far to go in the dystopian future world. Things are gray, mostly made of cement and the government is definitely, absolutely watching you. These have been the trappings of most every story where mankind’s ambition exceeds his grasp from “1984” to “V for Vendetta.” And for some reason, it always happen in Britain. Makes you wonder, huh?

The creative team behind Metropia hasn’t toyed around too much with the formula, but they have moved things to Europe and delivered a detailed story in a shiny new package that’s worth seeking out.

With fuel resources all but diminished, Europe is connected by a massive underground transit that everyone rides to their sad little work lives every day. Roger (voiced by Vincent Gallo) is a cog in the machine who is manic, paranoid, a bit depressed and dealing with a voice in his head. His relationship with his girlfriend is failing because of his own mistrust, and he’s about to lose his job when he follows the mysteriously beautiful Nina (voiced by Juliette Lewis) who takes him down a rabbit hole to the center of big business mind control.

Metropia is a great movie not because it treads over new ground, but because of the care and reverence it takes in walking over the old. The story itself is almost shot for shot from the Dystopian Genre: a gloomy outlook, surveillance, a beautiful woman leading our hero out of the cave, nefarious shampoo products. You know, the usual. Fortunately, the characters seem fresh despite living in a stark world, and there’s an energy to everything that’s not usually present in stories where everyone is inches away from committing suicide while the government listens to the rope strain. Plus, having Roger attempt to meet up with the very real voice in his head (provided by a government employee named Stefan (voiced by Alexander Skarsgard) who seems as depressed as Roger) is a stroke of genius and gives the story some momentum.

But the real reason to celebrate this movie is the look of the thing. A sort of stretched version of photo-realism, the people and environments displays are absolutely gorgeous, mirroring the not-quite-human aspect of the world of the film. Even an hour into Metropia I found myself reveling in the artwork in front of me. The visuals are so transfixing that I can only assume someone spiked my shampoo with mind control drugs.

The cast is strong, although Juliette Lewis’s voice is a little too recognizable, and they give life to these human-looking animations. Vincent Gallo’s insecurity come to life through Roger, Udo Kier’s strange ambition for corporatist Ivan Bahn, Stellan Skarsgard’s wanton cruelty in Ralph. All of the performances add a lot to what could have been fairly standard characters in an all too familiar world.

Over all, there’s little mind blowing about the movie itself except the way that it looks. It’s got a depth of story that maintains interest for the duration, but ultimately it seems like George Orwell should have at least gotten a story credit. Still, it’s fun in an odd way, looks amazing, and raises the usual questions of what we’re doing with our lives if all we ever do is wake up, go to work, come home and go to bed while having gigantic eyes that don’t match our skull size.

The Upside: Good acting and a breathtaking look.

The Downside: The Nina character sounds exactly like Juliette Lewis, the story isn’t all that new.

On the Side: Vincent Gallo signed onto the film after seeing thirty seconds of the animation.

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