Oh, what a wonderful, rich, glorious treat of a film Mars et Avril
is. A sci-fi steam-punk romance with a terrific score, it is a delight to the senses. Visually stunning, melodramatic in its storytelling, and unafraid to delve into deep philosophical musings, apparently it's already been released on DVD, and I don't know if it ever had a theatrical release in Canada (though perhaps in Quebec). This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, but is by no means an easy watch, in the sense that it does ponder big questions, and asks the spectator to stretch their imagination more than usual.
Written and directed by Martin Villeneuve (adapted from his own graphic novels) and set in futuristic Montreal, it tells the story of Jacob, an old musician who plays instruments designed by Arthur, who uses naked female models as templates for the instruments' shapes. Jacob plays regularly at an underwater club, and is worshiped by women young and old. Enter April, a photographer who wants to photograph monologues; she wants to include both Arthur and Jacob in her project, and it isn't long before a love triangle develops between the three. This is set against coverage of the first manned trip to Mars and philosophical musings by Arthur's father, Eugene.
If you have seen the trailer, you will have an idea of the wonderful look of the film. It effortlessly combines the foreign and the familiar, melding the future with the past in a way that is believable and not jarring. It is too often easy for the audience to get distracted by the intricacies of futuristic settings, but luckily this blends with the mood of the film. Indeed, one of the interesting things is how in many ways, the story in understated; it is, after all, a fairly standard love triangle, and in the end it is secondary to greater philosophical questions -- how we see, how we are seen, what is our place in the universe. But it is perhaps through simple stories of love that these questions are best asked.
Despite its grandeur of art direction (or perhaps because of it), this is not a sci-fi blockbuster film. Its mode is far more akin to European art cinema. While it certainly doesn't drag, it is not to be taken at a quick pace. Villeneuve gives the audience time to breathe in the story of this dark and rich world. As Jacob falls in love for the first time at the age of 70, Arthur trapped in jealousy and attempt to maintain identity separate from his father, and April caught between two very different men, not one word of dialogue of frame is wasted on too much exposition. This is not to say the film is minimalist; far from it. The richness of the art direction extends to the script, and it has some very funny moments that add to that richness.
This is a film that is very aware of the two senses the medium engages, sight and sound, and blends them with a perfect mix of sadness and joy. The sights and sounds perfectly reflect the grandeur of the story, but also does not lose anything in the more intimate moments. This film should have received much more attention that it did, both in Canada and abroad.
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