Immortal (aka Immortel (ad Vitam)) (2004)

Immortal (aka Immortel (ad Vitam)) first published by Film4

Summary: Enki Bilal brings the mannered universe of his own comic books to life, in a hybrid mix of real and virtual action.

Review: New York, 2095. On the eve of an election, a giant stone pyramid has appeared, hovering over the cityscape, while Central Park has transformed into an icy gateway to another world. The falcon-headed Horus (Thomas M. Pollard), condemned by his fellow gods for acts of rebellion, has been granted seven days to revisit the earth that he helped to create before he will lose his immortality forever – but he has other plans. 

Meanwhile, after legendary freedomfighter Alcide Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann) is accidentally released from the airborne prison where he has been frozen for the last 30 years, corrupt Senator Allgood (Joe Sheridan), and the even more corrupt biomedical multinational that backs him, take unorthodox measures to ensure that the fugitive dissident is prevented from revealing their past secrets. At the same time Inspector Froebe (Yann Collette), whose face was once half-devoured by a mutant ‘Dayak’, is investigating a grisly series of murders whose victims appear to have exploded from the inside; while the alien physiology of amnesiac Jill Bioskop (Linda Hardy) is undergoing a peculiar metamorphosis, overseen by both the sympathetic, if confounded, Dr Elma Turner (Charlotte Rampling) and the otherworldly John (Frédéric Pierrot) – and others, too, have their eyes on Jill…

Made at the same time as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) and Casshern (2004), Immortal can claim to be amongst the first films to have immersed flesh-and-blood actors into fully computer-generated backgrounds, creating a world both recognisable and infinitely strange, where mutant sharks ride the city plumbing system in search of their prey, where people are made up of body parts purchased from all over the world, where deities take over the bodies of compatible human hosts, and where, as in John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet (1984), illegal aliens are also literal aliens. In the over-medicated melting pot that is writer/director Bilal’s Big Apple of the future, humans, mutants, extraterrestrials and gods all go drinking in the same bar, and form is married to content as ‘real’ characters (Nikopol, Elma, Jill) mingle with CG-rendered ‘virtual’ characters (everyone – and everything – else) in a compellingly perverse union.

Immortality may be crammed with visual references to works of urban dystopia ranging from Metropolis to Brazil, from Blade Runner to The Matrix, from Q: The Winged Serpent to Stargate, and from The Fifth Element to The 12 Monkeys, but although its converging storylines are never difficult to follow, together they defy easy summary or categorisation. Sure it is sci-fi, but is also a theanthropic buddy flick, a bizarre love triangle, an immigrant’s assimilation tale, a psychosexual mystery, a creation myth, an elegant piece of futurist noir, and a good old-fashioned monster movie, all rolled into one beautifully stylised package; and although Bilal has concentrated on only a few characters and narrative arcs from his original comic books The Carnival of Immortals and The Woman Trap, he creates a fantasy metropolis so dazzlingly expansive that the film, far from being the mere sum of its plots, offers a template for a multi-layered universe in which the viewer could become lost forever.

The characterisation is not always as three-dimensional as the computer artwork, the dialogue occasionally dips into cheesiness, and the quality of the digital rendering varies from scene to scene, but nobody could accuse Immortal of being short of ideas, or failing to inspire awe. 

Verdict: Bilal’s adaptation of his own comicbooks offers an exquisitely realised digital map of the future. Rarely is dystopian cyberpunk so inventive, so multi-faceted, or so strange.

© Anton Bitel