The easiest way to sum up the French animated neo-noir Renaissance is to simply call it a cross between Sin City and Blade Runner. This would not be an unfair comparison to make, but wouldn't really do the movie justice. It's something you look upon and truly, honestly know that you're watching something you've never seen before - there's nothing I've ever seen quite like this, done this way.
In the Paris of 2054, things have inevitably moved forward while the city still retains its singularly European feel with the architecture of the old existing side by side with the advances of the new. An omnipresent company, Avalon, is seemingly everywhere and is the biggest corporation around; their products keep you young and healthy and, one supposes, happy. A young researcher for Avalon, Ilona, is mysteriously abducted. Detective Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig) takes charge of the investigation, and becomes closer to Ilona's older sister Bislane (Catherine McCormack), as the case evolves. The CEO of Avalon, Dellenbach (Jonathan Pryce) is seemingly helpful yet strangely guarded; Karas is immediately suspicious. A mysterious Dr. Jonas Muller (Ian Holm), whom Ilona was colleagues with, seems to have ties to her disappearance. Revelations about rare childhood diseases, the search for Muller's journal, and strange experiments come to light and may put Karas, as well as Bislane, in mortal danger.
Renaissance does not have the most original narrative ever put on film; this is working squarely under the umbrella of film noir and stays generally close to the rulebook noir has established over the years. The inventiveness and originality Renaissance offers us a viewers is of the visual variety, and what visuals they are. Almost completely animated in black and white, the film is without a doubt the closest possible translation of a living, breathing comic book to celluloid I have ever been lucky enough to witness. There are perhaps three brief instances of grey, and only two moments with real color - each only seconds long - and when these are introduced, the colors are used in the service of character development, of all things.
Just as an exercise in cinema, a new form of animation using motion capture, CG, and traditional hand-drawn cels, Renaissance is breathtaking. The depiction of this futuristic Paris feels real and spot-on, and wholly convincing. Dellenbach's office, suspended in glass between two typical skyscrapers, is easily one of the most interesting and somehow beautiful components of a film to date, and it's only onscreen for a few minutes, yet it sticks with you. The same goes for a cat-and-mouse game in an elevated atrium, part of Avalon's research facilities, where Karas is hunted by goons in invisibility suits; it's suspenseful and cutting-edge in equal measure.
Director Christian Volckman, in his feature debut (he previously helmed the short Maaz), has given us a rare treat: a film that feels familar, yet undeniably fresh at the same time. Having a noir-influenced narrative mixed with the unconventional animation style is a gift for fans of sci-fi and fantasy cinema as well as purists of the older, classic storytelling forms.
The voice work, primarily done by British actors, elevates the movie immeasurably. Craig is perfectly world-weary and cynical as Karas, providing us with a scarred yet heroic protagonist. McCormack gives us a well-done take on the femme fatale, where we're not quite sure of her intentions at first, but has us on her side before too long. Pryce and Holm are fabulous - as one would expect from these veterans - as the adversaries representing Big Buisness and science gone mad. The smaller roles are solidly voiced as well.
The DVD looks and sounds superb, and is reference quality. There's the original French language track in addition to the fantastic English-voice translation, so if you insist on hearing it as it was intended for European audiences, here's your chance. The only bonus feature on the disc is a worthy one indeed, a featurette entitled "The Making Of Renaissance." This covers all aspects of the production for roughly a half-hour running time, including interviews with the director, producers, writers, and artists; looks at Volckman's original short, which inspired all to create this film; insights into the animation and motion capture footage. It's subtitled in English, and if you're so inclined and interested in how this all was pulled off, well worth your time.
Renaissance has not reinvented the wheel in terms of story, no - but it points us in an exciting new direction for how we choose to tell these stories. It's invigorating and inspired moviemaking, and I'm glad I got a chance to experience it.