I've never been a big fan of the rotoscoping animation technique, until Christian Volckman's Renaissance showed me what could be done with it. Renaissance is a French animation sci-fi, borrowing heavily from other famous sci-fi projects, but presenting itself in such a way that it feels fresh, exciting and original. Even today the animation still stands as a technical marvel, which begs to question why Volckman never got around to directing a second film.
You are excused if you're suffering from Oshii/Shirow/Blade Runner flashbacks when watching Renaissance. While it's far from a blatant copy, the film features many references to the most famous sci-fi representatives of my generation. A company called Avalon, thermo-optical camouflage (Kokaku Kidotai), cityscapes that resembles Scott's fan favorite, a bad guy looking like he dropped out of Akira and an "object racing above the water" shot lifted right out of Patlabor 2, it's clear Volckman has been watching the same sci-fi stuff I grew up with.
The film itself plays more like a noir detective, although that might be partly due to the pretty extreme black and white art style. The setting is mostly an excuse for a rather simple "catch the bad guy" story, though the ending does try to add some morality issues to the whole. It isn't all that substantial to be honest, but then again, I said the same thing about Blade Runner and people seem to love that film for "the questions it raises".
The film starts when Ilona, a famous scientist working for Avalon, is kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Karas, a discredited cop, is assigned to her case. At first it seems like a pretty random kidnapping, but as Karas uncovers more and more clues it becomes clear that there are ulterior motives behind the disappearance of Ilona. Human experiments and eternal life propel the story forward, as do a few well-timed action scenes.
Renaissance is most of all a visual experience. The extreme black and white renderings take away most of the awkwardness that usually goes together with the rotoscoping technique (though not quite all of it), while giving the film a completely unique and distinguished feel. The CG is solid, the design and cityscapes impressive and the overall effect is one of awe. Even though Renaissance has been around for a while, it still stands as a technical triumph.
The soundtrack is pretty cool too. A mostly electronic-based score with a few well-known artists (like LFO, Plaid, Chris Clark) makes for an adequate atmosphere that really fits the setting. While the individual tracks could've been a bit more outspoken, the soundtrack as a whole is a little too present throughout the film. A better balance would've been nicer, but apart from that little quibble there's little to complain about.
Even though the rotoscoping makes it obvious the characters speak French, there's also an English dub featuring Daniel Craig as Karas (I guess big names sell films, even when their faces don't actually apppear on screen). I tried it for a minute or so, but the English dub is a pretty horrible experience. It's much better to go for the French version, if only because the film is set in Paris (where people are known to speak French).
While some of the trailers make it look like a pretty action-packed film, there aren't that many action scenes. It's mostly a detective story with a few action moments to balance the pacing. The ending is decent, but hardly anything original or lasting. Volckman just goes through the motions, connecting all the hints together and throwing in some moral issues for good measure, but it isn't as impressive as it could've been. It suffices though, unless you're a real endings-whore.
For me Renaissance is a superb audiovisual experience. A grand sci-fi flick that sets up an intriguing glimpse of the future. Volckman paints a pretty grim yet cohesive picture, offers a solid but tested storyline and does all of that in a slim and slick 90 minutes. It's a shame Volckman hasn't been seen since, I just hope he turns up one day and delivers a film that equals Renaissance. For now though, this film still proves itself worthy, even after multiple viewings.