LIST CANDIDATE: IMMORTAL (AD VITAM) (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Enki Bilal

FEATURING: Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann, Thomas M. Pollard (voice),

PLOT: The Egyptian god Horus shows up in a pyramid floating above Manhattan in 2095 and

Still from Immortal (Ad Vitam) (2004)

possesses the thawed body of a cryogenically frozen political prisoner to search for a blue haired woman.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It might make the List for the outrageous premise mixing Egyptian mythology and futurist fiction, for the bizarre mingling of live actors with CG characters, and for the confusing storyline which makes the entire film seem like it might be a pagan god’s bad dream after having eaten a tainted planet for a midnight snack.

COMMENTS: The visual ambition of Immortal sometimes surpasses its budget, but it’s always beautifully designed; take the vision of a blue haired pixie women balancing on a girder as she ambles through a cityscape of gray steel art deco skyscrapers.  Immortal‘s Manhattan is a wondrously vertical place of soaring buildings, flying cars, and floating billboards.  No matter how attractive the digital backdrops, though, the watcher is likely to be taken aback by the fact that almost everyone on the screen looks like an animated avatar from the “Final Fantasy” video game series.  You might expect to see computer generated figures portraying the aliens, mutants and ancient Egyptian gods that populate Immortal‘s world, but most of the major human players are completely animated, while the occasional disposable extra of no importance is played by a real live actor.  ‘s meddling doctor (with a hairdo made from melted black plastic) is no more important to the tale than a police inspector searching for what he believes to be a serial killer, but one is animated and the other isn’t; it’s disconcerting when they perform scenes opposite each other.  The limited emoting ability of computer-generated images makes them fairly creepy when they’re among their own kind; putting them next to real people highlights their uncanny plastic imperfections.  The seemingly arbitrary decision to animate some characters and use actors for others makes for a strange atmosphere, whether that was the intention or not.  Not that this scenario of an ancient god hunting for a woman through a futuristic city needed much strangening up.  The movie begins with the appearance of a giant pyramid floating in the sky, but no one in town pays it too much attention: this is the Big Apple, where everybody minds their own business.  Besides, New Yorkers in 2095 are jaded to mysterious apparitions: for several months, Central Park has been taken over by an unexplained extra-dimensional “incursion” that’s turned it into an arctic wasteland.  This teeming city is the perfect place for a guy like the falcon-headed god Horus to go about his business of searching for a mate without attracting too much attention.  Along the journey we’re treated to numerous odd touches: Horus’ fellow gods playing parlor games as they wait for him back at the pyramid; red hammerheaded aliens who swim through the skies; scenes shot in blurry, druggy “Jill-vision”; and half-explored subplots about political intrigues and the sinister role of the omnipresent Eugenics corporation in future society.  We are thrust into Bilal’s imaginary world with no explanations, and it takes a first act of near total confusion before we can start to get our bearings on the setting and the story.  “It’s almost like in one of those Greek tragedies… all of the elements will fall into place,” promises one character, whose reason for appearing in Immortal (Ad Vitam), ironically, never becomes absolutely clear.  All of the elements never fall into place—just who was John, anyway?—but I’m guessing if you’re intrigued by the idea of an amoral bird-headed deity stalking the streets of a moody computer-generated metropolis, the trippy sci-fi experience is going to outweigh your need for closure on a few loose plot ends.

Much of the look Enki Bilal creates for Immortal is reminiscent of the imaginary world fellow French national created for The Fifth Element, from its junky flying taxis to the mysterious, hot, semi-divine pixie-woman at the center of the story.  The somber tone is very different, however, and Immortal remains a unique world despite its influences (Blade Runner is another obvious touchstone).  Bilal adapted the story from his own graphic novels, and the setting is clearly rich, with much more background detail than can be revealed in Immortal‘s 90 minute run time.  The more thorough, trilogy-length treatment of this unique universe given in the novels would undoubtedly make more sense, but probably be less appealing to lovers of weird movies.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…dreamy, slightly weird, stylish French sci-fi movie… Flawed but good.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Lili.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

4 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: IMMORTAL (AD VITAM) (2004)”

  1. I actually found the movie really great. Love the “world” created, the juxtaposition of real and computer generated characters and the storyline was compelling, too. I do not know why this movie got bashed so much, but I would give it an easy 9/10. Really exotic, creative and complex images and story!

  2. One of the best movies ever. It still leaves me breathless up to today same as first time i watched it. Why do we watch movies anyway? its to escape reality for a bit. And if we were to talk about loose ends all movies about the future need to have loose ends both for our imagination to have something to chew and any need that might arise to film a sequel.
    I love new concepts that were in the matrix and inception. Looking forward to upside down world.

  3. Bilal didn’t steal from Luc Besson, it was the other way around. It was just that nobody outside of France knew and they all bashed Bilal for supposedly stealing from “Fifth Element”, when really Besson had stolen it all from Bilal.

    After all, his “Alcide Nikopol” graphic novel trilogy (including Jill and the flying cars and all) was published from 1980 up to 1992. If Bilal was ripping off anything in 1980, it was:

    – the mood evoked by Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” (the 1980s also saw a number of dark-as-molasses, sad, chilly cold graphic novel satires by Yugoslavian-born Bilal on the Soviet bloc, with similar moods of sad despair, loathing, and signs of decay as in Tarkovsky’s film),

    – and the music of David Bowie, with whom Bilal collaborated during Bowie’s Berlin period, and around 1982 Bilal also published a coffeetable book with his art dedicated to the Berlin Wall that goes with the songs from Bowie’s 1977 album “Heroes” pretty much as in the rumored “Wizard of Oz”-“Dark Side of the Moon” theory.

    Well, maybe there also was a *SLIGHT* influence of Giger in Bilal’s work, but never did Bilal’s work have such oozing organics as Giger’s.

    Additional fun facts: In 1980, Bilal modelled the looks of his protagonist Nikopol after a young Bruno Ganz. Yes, *THAT* Bruno Ganz who’s played Hitler in “The Downfall”. In the original graphic novel, the pyramid appears somewhere in Africa, either it was Cape Town or Johannesburg, and during its stay it permanently gives polar temperatures to the entire city, while immediately outside the city, everything else still is hot desert. I think the fact that people have become so oblivious to the pyramid was explained with that by the beginning of the story, it’s already been there for a few months, so people have gotten used to it.

    I agree that “Immortal” is flawed as a film. My main beef are the animated ordinary people that look like crap, they didn’t exist in the graphic novels, and the explanation given for them in the film is a definite “Blade Runner” rip-off. My secondary critizism is that Bilal tried to cram the plot of three graphic novels into a single film, where he naturally fails and it’s all much more jumbled and confusing than it coulda been had he also made it a trilogy of films. It’s really sad, as the film is great at evoking a truly weird mood (especially within the pyramid and with Jill’s mysterious mentor figur), though not quite as cold and edgy as in his comics.

    As for the Tarkovsky connection, did anyone else notice the similarity between that forbidden polar zone in Central Park and Tarkovsky’s forbidden Zone?

  4. Oh, and it’s a pity Bilal couldn’t quite match his own bleak drawing style made of dirt, decay, and depression, as inspired by Tarkovskys “Stalker” (1979) and the music of David Bowie, in the film. Incidentally, Bilal’s drawing style has been adapted much better by the 1950s/’60s mid-part of “Taxidermia” (2006).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *