Movie review: ‘Metropia’

Share via

Adult animated films are extremely hard to pull off. You either go X-rated like Ralph Bakshi’s smartly provocative “Fritz the Cat” did so many years ago, or unexpectedly insightful as 2008’s brilliant war story “ Waltz With Bashir” did, earning an Oscar nod. Despite grand ambitions, “Metropia” doesn’t quite manage either though it makes a high-minded grab at a bit of both.

From Swedish documentary filmmaker Tarik Saleh, a one-time graffiti artist with a long interest in animation, “Metropia” was conceived as a dark futuristic conspiracy thriller about mind control, big business and a nefarious subway system. Written by Saleh, novelist Stig Larsson (not to be confused with the late Stieg Larsson, whose novels, starting with the “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” have become international blockbusters) and journalist Fredrik Edin, the story begins in Stockholm in 2024, when Roger ( Vincent Gallo), an ordinary office worker, begins to hear voices in his head.

The animation is mesmerizing to watch, a photo cutout montage process developed in 2000 by Saleh and art director Martin Hultman. Lead animator Isak Gjertsen refined this into a highly styled, eerily realistic paper-doll effect at the director’s animation house, Atmo Animation. The filmmakers have envisioned a decaying urban-scape washed in a moody industrialized color palette. It’s a world populated by people with eyes so startling you won’t want to look away. With Kafka’s “The Trial” providing some of the filmmaker’s inspiration, it’s probably not an accident that the shape of Roger’s head and body echoes Munch’s “The Scream.”

As we pick up the story, Roger’s voices aren’t telling him anything all that relevant. They’re just distracting and he’d like them to stop. He’s worried that forces he doesn’t understand are at work and has a sneaky suspicion that the Metro that sprawls underneath most of Europe is part of the problem. After vandals break his bike, he’s forced underground for his morning commute where a mysterious blond, Nina, ( Juliette Lewis) catches his eye. Spying, stalking and collaboration soon follow. The relationships are adult, which means there are hints of sex and nudity, and at times F-bombs drop like a heavy rain.

Ultimately, the filmmakers are more concerned with big notions of questionable consumerism and lives overtaken by media via a ubiquitous bottle of blue shampoo that makes its appearance early on and a reality TV game show that launches its losers into a nearby river. It’s a function-driven universe and when that functionality ceases — whether product or person — like empty plastic bottles, they’re discarded.

Though there’s a lot of esoteria thrown out, the ideas are only teased around the edges with dialogue drifting between muddlingly obscure and maddeningly obvious, and Gallo and Lewis effect a near monotone delivery. After a slow start, there is a race at the end to hand over the answers to all the clues dropped along the way. The animation does most of the heavy lifting for the film, it’s just not quite strong enough to rescue Roger or “Metropia.”