Metropia: A Dystopian Outlook.
The enthusiastic film crowd in New York raced to see the much talked about Swedish film Metropia at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival where it made its US premiere. Tickets sold out quickly and an extra screening was added.
By Niclas Goldberg
New Yorkers could feel a vibe of connection with the gritty subways in the film. The Icelandic volcano ash clouds over Europe were viciously similar. “What have I done - Europe is just like Metropia” smiles the ultra nice Swedish director Tarik Saleh at a press conference together with Juliette Lewis and Alexander Skarsgård, two of the stars in the film. The atmosphere is in high spirit - it’s the morning after the US premiere and all seem exhilarated.
Metropia is a futuristic film
Not only has it been screened at over 35 film festivals around the globe, it has also been selected, out of twelve films by Tribeca Film, to be distributed to US theatres as well as the video on demand market with an audience of some 40 million homes. And some of the greatest characters actors are in Metropia. That is pretty good for an animated dystopian science fiction movie from Sweden. The 1927’s classic Metropolis has found a little brother!
“Metropia is not really about the future. It’s a about the past. It’s about those years when the world went insane due to fear. I think it all started on 9/11, in a way we all got scared,” says the filmmaker, animator, producer, graphic designer and screenwriter. He found inspiration for the movie from another press conference at the Pentagon courtesy of Donald Rumsfeld. Saleh was then making a film about Guantanamo,
“Can you imagine, it was April 2003, Rumsfeld declared that we had won the war! That was the day when the statue fell,” says Saleh.
Metropia is an enigmatic science fiction film noir thriller. The story takes place in the year 2024 and the world is running out of oil. Dark clouds cover the sky and the underground train systems have been connected into a gigantic subway network beneath Europe. Roger (Vincent Gallo) from the Stockholm suburb Farsta avoids the underground because he finds it disturbing. Sometimes when he is too near it, he hears a strange voice in his head (Alexander Skarsgård). He looks to the shampoo model Nina (Juliette Lewis) to help him escape the disturbing web of the Metro, but the further they travel (even to Paris!), the deeper he gets involved in an Orwellian conspiracy.
The film comments on a big brother phenomenon - the surveillance system is watching you, the multinational corporations have found their way into your lives. The atmosphere is tense and hypnotic at the same time. This reality based animation is as revolutionary dystopian as technically innovative. The visual and the soundtrack are in groovy harmony with the story.
Saleh comments, “Well, I grew up in an animation studio. My father is an animator. It’s a world for real nerds. I am a nerd too but not that nerdy”.
Saleh and the fearless producer Kristina Åberg from Atmo production company, which also stands behind the much talked about Videocrazy, managed to bring on an impressive list of actors.
“I wanted the best actors in the world, those who craft an authentic feel” says Saleh.
“So when they turned you down, you came to us?” Alexander Skarsgård laughs.
“Yeah after I asked De Niro - No, these guys here were on the top of the list. In animation you use voice talents, which is great. I love the Simpsons, but it’s not real, it’s stylized”, says Saleh who goes on to imitate Marge from the Simpsons.
Udo Kier was the first to jump on the project, and then came Skarsgård; his father Stellan Skarsgård has a small voice role.
“Tarik and I talked about the story many years ago. The dark bleak dystopian idea he had. It’s not so far from where we are right now”, smiles Skarsgård.
The lead Vincent Gallo signed on after seeing only 30 seconds of the film. He didn’t even read the script. Gallo as well as Saleh are former graffiti artists, both growing up in urban landscapes - different countries, however similar worlds. The subways were sort of a playground. Juliette Lewis was blown away by its idea of film noir and the fragility and humanity to the characters.
“It’s a sort of a universe exaggerated, you can do this in animation - create a hyper reality, an esthetic that really heightens your feelings, the paranoia and the alienation” she says.
According to Saleh, Skarsgård and Lewis work a lot with instincts.
“Vincent Gallo was different: he asked me a lot of questions, like, how am I afraid, what am I afraid of? Udo Kier scared the shit out of me” laughs Saleh and continues: “When you take away the faces of many actors, they sound the same.”
The cast in Metropia has distinct voices.
“Mine is very base, Tarik likes my regular voice. He even mentioned my fellow deep voice lady - Lauren Bacall. Usually directors want me to talk a little higher” says Lewis. Oscar nominated Lewis has been working with prominent names like Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone and Lasse Hallström.
“We must remember one thing; actors are basically making sure that films are being made. They are artistic. Because the film industry will not discover new ground” states Saleh.
Metropia is a risk project. It grasps Orwell’s 1984, it touches Gilliam’s Brazil with some Yuri Norstein and the cement grounded set with its beautifully melancholic mood makes your eyes wider. The film breathes fresh winds. The compelling original music by the award winning Swede/New Yorker Krister Linder, recognized as one of the leading names in contemporary music, organically combined with the scrupulous animated characters brings a layer of richness to the film. The hyper realistic style is described as if Kafka had painted the last supper with a machine gun.
Saleh underscores that “with animation its easier to bring an emotional truth and show you how things feel, not what they look like. I call it dream logic. I think there are two kinds of dreams; dreams can be totally boring, for instant if I told you that I dreamed yesterday that everybody were pigs, you know, anything can happen. If I tell you I dreamed about you (turning to Lewis). Well, that is interesting. We think the dream has a message to us”.
“Oh that’s funny,” chuckles Lewis, “I thought the pigs were interesting.”
“I love the idea that when you have a dream it has logic when you dream it, but when you retell it, it doesn’t make sense.”
Saleh leaned on Kafka’s The Trial as a source of inspiration.
For Lewis Metropia is a sort of comeback after a few years out of films.
“I tend to go, whatever my process is, to a very instinctual imaginary place. Things come alive, oh I love complexity, subtexts and things that question the status quo. I am into any kind of fresh voice,” says Lewis.
Skarsgård, who continues with the third season of HBO’s True Blood, inserts:
“The style of Metropia feels in a way like an animated Roy Anderson. I have done animated movies before but never with this amount of creative freedom. There are no boundaries.”
Metropia’s modern look exceeds its limits, jumping into a not-so-distant future. The paralleled coincidence is that the silent science fiction film Metropolis is screened in the urban jungle of New York City at the same time. New times, cutting edges, new styles...
Metropia opens in the US on May 12th and can be seen on video-on-demand.
More on Swedish film in 2010: http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/nordic/2105/