Immortel (ad vitam) (2004)
New York City, year 2095. France is under dictatorship following two nuclear wars. The ancient Egyptian gods have returned to Earth in a floating pyramid above Manhattan. They have cast judgment upon Horus (the falcon headed god). Given only one week by the gods to preserve his immortality, Horus must search New York City and find both a human host body to inhabit and a willing mate to continue his legacy. In the city Jill wanders around in search of her true identity aided by a doctor who discovers that she is physically only 3 month old. Alcide Nikopol, a rebel condemned to 30 years of cryopreservation escapes his prison, due to a mechanical accident. Horus takes control of Nikopol's body. Sounds surreal? It is.
Immortel is based on the first two volumes in the Nikopol Trilogy, a French science fiction graphic novels trilogy written between 1980 and 1993 by Bosnian born Enki Bilal: La Foire aux immortels (Carnival of Immortals), La Femme piège (Woman Trap) and Froid Équateur (Cold Equator).
Enki Bilal has always been one of my favorite French comics artist. His works is a surreal mix between the deadly epic seriousness of anime, combined with the French classic Metal Hurlant style. Reading his stories is a bit like watching a painting from a Dutch renaissance master – poetic, violent and heavy on symbolism.
The movie is very true to the original comic. Enki Bilal directed Immortel himself, probably not an optimal solution. Storytelling genius in one medium does not necessarily carry over to another. You can tell it's a filmed comic book. The dialogue may read well on paper, but suffers in the movie from its stilted formality. And someone with a better grasp of English should have polished up the language. Here and there you can tell it's translated French.
Immortel was one of the first movies to use an entirely "virtual backlot". The actors were all shot in front of a green-screen with all the backgrounds added in post-production. Bilal uses computer-animated actors with live actors (probably for budget reasons). The technology was a bit immature. The animations looks like a computer game trailer.
But it doesn't really matter as the story is brilliant and the visuals are stunning. Even if it has technical and narrative defects, the film has unsuspected depths. There is not a bit of Hollywood in this. Immortal is that rare movie that doesn't only entertain, but dares to make you think. It's a film that you love to see again.