To be fair, there really is no such thing as "European animation". Asian (mostly Japanese) and American animation films usually lead up to certain expectations amongst their respective audiences (and yeah, of course there are exceptions, there always are), but there is no clear bottom line when it comes to European animation titles. Each director seems to come up with a style or theme of his own, leading to an extremely varied if not wildly voluminous selection of titles. European animation ranges from the oddly cell-shaded Nyocker to the black and white overstylized sci-fi of Renaissance. From the strangely innocent-looking revenge flick Princess to the more comic-book like sexual parodies of Blanche Neige.
Metropia fits well into this list, as there really isn't much out there to compare it with. Sure it draws from many other sources, not in the least the Orwellian look of the future where the whole of Europe is connected by an underground metro structure and people are living bleak, controlled lives. But coupled with its distinct look, its unique pacing and quite the novel spin on the setting Metropia stands well on its own two feet.
The film follows Roger, a dull and extremely average guy who's only rebellion lies with riding a bike to his workplace. Something that is actually illegal as people are expected to spend their hard-earned cash riding the metro, feeding the system. But Roger's life is bound to change as he starts hearing voices in his head around the same time he meets up with his dream girl (a shampoo ad girl). While both events seem unrelated at first, they trigger a chain reaction of events that will change the world ... hopefully for the better.
Metropia is a very visual experience. The animation technique used was specifically developed for this film and might take some getting used to. The faces of the characters look frighteningly real, but they are sparingly animated and appear too big for their bodies. The film looks like a dark, realistic spin on the Japanese chibi fascination, which is somewhat disturbing to say the least. But it works well enough and it gives the film a very distinctive flavor on which is able to build. Know that this style is consistently applied throughout the whole film, so if you think it looks quite bland, don't expect to see much improvement further on.
The soundtrack is equally dark and brooding, featuring a layer of dark ambient that flows well with the visuals. It's not as adventurous or exciting as the visual side of things, but it does the job. Voice acting is solid too, with Vincent Gallo taking up the lead role (his soft voice works well for Roger) and Juliette Lewis and Stellan Skarsgard filling in secondary roles. They do a pretty remarkable job as their voices are separated sufficiently from their real-world selves, keeping the characters very much unique rather than have them become an extension of the voice actors (something which happens all too often in American animation films).
If you don't dig the visuals, I'm pretty sure that the rest of the film will have a hard time convincing you of its other merits. While the story is interesting enough to entertain, the pacing is quite slow and the visuals are so very much in your face that they play a large part in the overall impression of Metropia. It comes down to personal taste, but if you're not afraid of people trying something different then there is much fun to be had with Saleh's experimentation.
Metropia is a film that will appeal to people who like a dystopian future coupled with a craving for unique animation. If you fall into that category there's really nothing that will hold you back to discover the full potential of this little masterpiece. But even if you can't find yourself in this description Metropia could still prove to be a welcome surprise as there really isn't anything like it out there. So if you're feeling adventurous and you don't mind the chance of walking out a little disappointed, Metropia is still a very worthwhile bet. As for me, I loved it to bits and I'm already looking forward to Saleh's next project. Definitely recommended.
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