Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"This isn't some TV show fantasy, we have real lives!"

It is the Europe of 2024, where climate change has reduced the seasonal skies to a constant, uniform grey, where refugees compete for asylum on a popular television game show, and where a giant, corporate-owned trans-European rail network known as the Metro is the only licit form of transportation. In this drab dystopia, Roger (voiced by Vincent Gallo), a disgruntled, neurotic call-centre drone, is feeling more than a little impotent. Indeed, were it not for the fact that his illegal bicycle had been vandalised during the night, he would not even be travelling on the subway system, as he has always felt that "there is something weird going on in the Metro". That, after all, is where he hears most clearly the 'inner voice' that feeds on all his secrets fears and desires.

Copy picture

Sure enough, as Roger reads a poster advertisement in his train carriage for erectile dysfunction treatment, and hears a voice in his head trying to convince him that perhaps Viagra might, indeed, be the solution to all his relationship troubles with girlfriend Anna (Sofia Helin), Roger's response is to protest, insisting that his and Anna's real-life problems cannot be reduced to some commercial.

Next thing he knows, however, Roger is seeing an advertisment come to life before his very eyes. For he has just caught sight of Nina (Juliette Lewis), the model who features in the ubiquitous publicity campaign for popular anti-dandruff shampoo D'Angst, and whose appearance is a strangely seductive mix of the Thunderbirds' Lady Penelope and the elusive blonde from Hitchcock's Vertigo. And when Roger follows this 'dreamgirl' off the train, she reveals that she knows all about the voice in his head, and how to get rid of it permanently...

So begins the tangled plot of Metropia, a futurist Kafkaesque noir full of doppelgangers, femme fatales, Mabuse-like master mesmerists, thuggish gorillas and perverted family dynasties. Having previously co-directed (with Erik Gandini) documentaries on the death of Che Guevara (Sacrificio, 2001) and on the interrogation regime at Guantánamo Bay (Gitmo, 2005), Tarik Saleh may at first seem to be diverging considerably from his usual sociopolitical interests with this bleak SF anime – but in fact Metropia is concerned as much with our immediate present as with some speculative future, casting its dim light upon contemporary anxieties about surveillance, speed and multi-national Machiavellianism.

Even Metropia's distinctive style of animation - a sophisticated photomontage technique that resembles Terry Giliam's old Monty Python cut-outs only with far greater depth and detail – lends the film a hyperrealist look that is all the more alarmingly creepy for appearing so true to life (even when the story is pure pulp), as though the forms of dystopian nightmare and documentary reality had merged into a hallucinatory whole. The bleached-to-monochrome palette and rich textures are stunningly beautiful to behold, if also deeply unnerving.

It is open to debate whether the specific target of this film's dark satire is the European project, the internet, global corporatisation, multi-channel mediation, or something else entirely, but there is no doubt that it is about us, in all our helplessness to stop the external forces that shape and manipulate our innermost dreams. It might play like a sinister TV show fantasy, but Metropia is showing us our real lives, filtered through a distorting lens (or a scanner darkly) of genre-bound paranoia and conspiracy.

Meanwhile, all that insidious product placement for D'Angst shampoo might just leave you wondering, despite yourself and your lack of dandruff, where you can pick up a bottle...

Reviewed on: 15 Oct 2009
Share this with others on...
Metropia packshot
Futuristic animation sees a young man begin to hear voices in his head.
Amazon link

Director: Tarik Saleh

Writer: Fredrik Edin, Stig Larsson and Tarik Saleh, based on a story by Fredrik Edin, Martin Hultman and Tarik Saleh

Starring: Voices of: Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis, Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgård, Alexander Skarsgård, Sofia Helin, Shanti Roney, Fares Fares, Fredrik Eddari

Year: 2009

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland

Search database:

If you like this, try:

A Scanner Darkly