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cast: Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann, Charlotte Rampling, Frederic Pierrot, and Thomas M. Pollard

director: Enki Bilal

99 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 16:9
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Adapted from two of the graphic novels in his 'Nikopol' trilogy, Enki Bilal's film is effortlessly pretty, engrossing and frustrating by turns. Set in a future New York, which for several years has failed to contact the inhabitants of a pyramid hovering above it, the film follows several people (and a god) as their lives converge around the pyramid and what it means for the city.

Jill (Linda Hardy) is a woman who may not be fully human who is guided by a mysterious masked figure (Frederic Pierrot) towards a destiny she wants but can't remember. Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann) is a humanitarian serving time in an aerial prison who finds himself minus a leg and possessed by a god in short order. Horus (Thomas M. Pollard) has seven days to procreate before being killed by the other Egyptian gods inside the pyramid. Throw in the political machinations of New York, Horus' unpleasant habit of killing unwanted hosts and a doctor (Charlotte Rampling) fascinated by Jill, and you have a promising beginning. Throw in Bilal, one of the most fascinating visionaries of European comics, and you have the potential for something genuinely great.

Unfortunately, that's not quite what is delivered. The decision to shoot the film with a combination of physical sets and CGI is a brave one but isn't entirely effective. The locations are captured wonderfully, the claustrophobic feeling of Bilal's New York perfectly captured down to every cramped, overcrowded alley and the ever-present pyramid. Bilal's work is arguably the definitive cyberpunk look, and fans of Blade Runner and The Fifth Element will find a lot to enjoy here. There's the same sense of claustrophobia and insanely overcrowded, vibrant life mixed with Bilal's rich sense of deadpan humour. There's also a real sense of the mundane, people still stand in lines, get drunk, have sex and drive badly - it's just the world around that's changed.

This laconic feeling is perfectly captured by Kretschmann as Nikopol. Best known to viewers as the captain in King Kong, he's huge fun to watch here, combining the battered, insomniac look of Harrison Ford at his best with a world weary, off kilter sense of humour. Hardy, gifted with a thankless role as Jill, does her best work in her scenes with him and their highly unusual relationship is both fascinating and oddly sweet to watch. Similarly, Pollard's turn as Horus is strangely endearing, made all the more impressive by the fact he's portraying a murderous omnipotent rapist. Despite this, his scenes with Nikopol border on the playful and the banter between the two of them is huge fun to watch.

Unfortunately, where the film falls down is in its decision to mix fully realised CGI characters with the actors. At times, it works beautifully but unfortunately, the quality isn't consistent. For every scene with a CGI character (most notably the first time we see Charlotte Rampling) seamlessly dropped into the footage there are two which clearly sit above it, visibly less complex than their physical surroundings and looking badly out of place. It may be a stylistic choice to bring some characters closer into line with the distinctive art style of the original graphic novels but, unfortunately, it never quite works properly. Whilst the script also has some problems, with several ideas never being fully explored it's the physical effects that ultimately do the film the most damage.

Despite these problems, Immortal (aka: Ad Vitam) remains hugely entertaining and unlike anything else you'll watch this year. It is boundlessly inventive, often grimly funny and packed with more ideas than most of this year's big movies could hope to explore. It's just a shame that the film never quite seems at ease with its special effects.

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