Fantastic Fest 09: METROPIA Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
Roger is, to put it kindly, statistically average. He is boring. He is bland. He works in a call center. His sex life is stagnant. The only thing at all notable about Roger is the borderline paranoia that drives him to flout the norms and ride his bicycle above ground through the largely deserted city rather than use the massive underground train system that now links all of Europe. That and the fact that he hears voices in his head. The voices would be remarkable, sure, if not for the fact that they are every bit as boring as he is.

And then he meets Nina.

Gorgeous. Alluring. Mysterious. Roger has loved Nina from the day she first appeared on his television screen telling him to buy shampoo. Shampoo he doesn't need because his head is shaved but shampoo which he buys anyway because she tells him to and he loves her. And then, one day, there she is standing next to him in real life. And what Nina tells Roger will change his life forever.

Soon Roger is drawn into a conspiracy the scale of which he could never have imagined. The voice in his head, it turns out, is real and belongs to a man who uses tiny transmitters embedded in Roger's unnecessary shampoo to tap into his senses and monitor his behavior to ensure he remains a hungry consumer of goods and services. Nina is the daughter of the business magnate behind the whole thing and - with Roger's help - Nina will bring it all down, Roger proving his worth to her in the process.

Set in a disturbingly familiar near-future, Tarik Saleh's METROPIA blends the grey, surreal absurdity of vintage Kafka with cutting edge digital animation to create something truly striking and unique. Saleh's vision of an oppressively consumerist future places him in the company of Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury, his technique immediately establishes him as one of the most striking and unique voices in global animation. His vision of the future is a land bleak and gray, the world completely overwhelmed by consumer tendencies and greed, legitimate human interactions a rare and unusual thing.  The voice casting is stellar not just for its recognizability but - far more importantly - for its appropriateness to the roles, each player perfectly suiting their characters.

Metropia fits beautifully into the canon of dystopic literature, a grim but thoroughly plausible vision of the future, a future in which progress leads to squalor rather than prosperity.  Created using a unique process developed specifically for this film there has never been anything quite like it on screen before, never another voice quite like director Tarik Saleh's.  Cartoons ain't just for kids any more.
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