Director: Enki Bilal
Writer: Enki Bilal & Serge Lehman
Starring: Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann, Charlotte Rampling
Rating: 3 stars
The film stars French actress Linda Hardy as Jill – an amnesiac in the New York 2095 whose genetically-unique body only appears to be three months old. She’s found by geneticist Elma Turner (Charlotte Rampling) who gives the blue-skinned woman a place to stay in exchange for the opportunity to study her. Then there’s cryogenically frozen convict Nikopol (Kretschmann) who accidentally gets a year off his sentence (and loses his leg) due to a mechanical malfunction – he meets and ends up on the run with Jill. And did I mention the floating pyramids, Egyptian gods, and the restricted zone in Central Park?
Immortel is an ambitious, if unfortunately busy film adapted from writer/director Enki Bilal’s La foire aux immortels (The Carnival of the Immortals) which came during the first wave of green screen movies in the middle of the decade (along with Sky Captain and the World of Tommorrow and Casshern). Mixing live action actors with CG backgrounds, humans, and creatures, the final product is visually interesting but off somehow. Think of a more earnest and frankly sexual The Fifth Element and you have a sense of the final product.
According to Wikipedia, Bilal is a jack-of-all-trades in the comics world as well, having been scripting and illustrating his own work since the mid-70’s at the age of 14. La foire aux immortels is the first in the award-winning Nikopol trilogy of books created by Bilal, and it’s likely that had the big-screen adaptation found a wider audience we would have seen the second and perhaps the third stories in the sequence adapted.
However, the film is troubled from the start given the wooden performance by Hardy. She appears overwhelmed here, unsure of what to do with a character unsure of their identity or even species. It’s not for lack of commitment to the role – the actress is unafraid to show some skin or paint it blue for effect. The problem is that as Jill, Hardy can’t find the right level of tone for the role. What made Milla Jovavich the breakout character in Besson’s 1997 film was Leeloo’s manic assuredness mixed with playful naiveté. By contrast, Hardy comes off as wooden, confusing ultra-human to inhuman.
The blue-grey color scheme of the world (mirrored on Jill’s skin) gives the filmmaker and excuse to fill the CG environment with gleaming, cold surfaces. It’s a cold, uninviting future, New York 2095. It’s also a very vertical future, with buildings ascending well into the sky as overcrowding puts a premium on skyscraper space. Evoking a cramped, ugly future which remains visually interesting is one area where the film succeeds.