Something a bit different for your perusal this week, the French Scifi/ Cyberpunk action film “Chysalis” directed by Julien Leclercq has finally made it’s way here to Region 1 DVD and your Favorite Catgirl needed just this sort of change of pace, so for our Review this time out, we’re off to Paris in the year 2025…. and naturally enough science is up to no good…..
The synopsis reads: “The near-future, year 2025. A high-tech surgeon and her daughter are involved in a horrific car accident – with the young girl nearly losing her life. However, with the most advanced technology at her command, the surgeon is able to restore her daughter to health….. but with dire consequences.
Meanwhile gung-ho police officer Hoffman loses his wife and partner in a pitched gun battle with an escaped gangland criminal. Seeking revenge his investigation takes him all the way to the surgeon and a clinic run by the iron hand of technology where all is not as it seems.”
“Simple, non?” (Betcha didn’t know your “Princesse Magique des Fille de Chat” spoke a lil’ French, eh?…… or at least I can find “Bablefish” when I need it… Hehehehe!!)
So will this be a gritty futuristic detective film with edge-of-the-seat action and taught drama wrapped around a cautionary treatise on the dangers of technology run amok? Or will it just plain stink….. and not in a good way. Let’s all “Read On” and find out!!
So…. let’s see….. the movie stars Albert Dupontel as Lieutenant David Hoffmann, played with suitable film-noir cop angst in the gritty future city of Paris, who hunts the killer of his wife and partner, the Russian mobster Nicolov (played by Alain Figlarz, who also oversaw the combat sequences and fight choreography) while he also looks into the murder and disappearance of 2 young illegal immigrant girls, Tatiana and her sister Helena. Also we have Marie Guillard as his eager new Europol partner, Lieutenant Marie Becker, who may or may not be completely on Hoffmann’s side in the case. Only time will tell….
Then there is the second, parallel story running throughout this one featuring Marthe Keller as brilliant surgeon, Professor Brügen, with Mélanie Thierry as Brügen’s injured daughter, Manon (who also starred recently in Mathieu Kassovitz’s “Babylon A.D.”). These two stories circle each other, eventually colliding in the ugly, violent, typical neo-noir fashion about half way through….. (don’t worry, it’s not the confusing mess these stories sometimes dissolve into…) Filling out the cast are supporting rolls by Estelle Lefébure as Clara (seen in Xavier Gens’ “Frontier(s)” aka “Frontières”) reviewed here at the Litterbox), Patrick Bauchau as Lieutenant Becker’s father, Professor Minkowski, Francis Renaud as Yuri, and Manon Chevallier as Manon’s only friend at the hospital, little Clémence.
It’s the future alright…. and naturally we get the usual dark, bleak looking grey/blue world from which all real color seems to have been somehow leeched away. You can tell it’s the future because of all the casual use of electric cars, holograms, laser imagers, and lots of of gee whiz gizmos…. but it’s still a world you recognize…. with the same petty crime, misery, and the general crappy urban outlook on life. I suppose this is the flip side of that other view of the future we always get in these sort of “near future” movies…. you know, the parched poisoned wastelands teeming with outlaws/mutants/zombies just outside all the cities…. What exactly happened to give movies like this such a terrible view of our future anyway? Sigh…. I suppose there is some deeper meaning to all that, but this lil’ girl just wants the action to start… and it does.
After the car accident in which poor Manon gets critically injured, we switch rather abruptly to a police raid on Nicolov’s hideout somewhere in the sewers of Paris. Hoffmann and his wife/police partner Susan are chasing Nicolov with all the general gunfire and action you might need… they look like they have him cornered, but Nicolov turns the tables on them. He grabs Susan… and despite Hoffmann’s surrendering his gun, knifes her brutally from behind and throws her body into the sewer. Hoffmann tries to save her, getting wounded in the process, but it’s too late… So far so good… we have an angry “cop on the edge” revenge vibe all set up… those always work.
This one does, but unfortunately it’s just too easy. You think that the plot will eventually revolve to have Marie end up with Hoffmann, after the two of them sort out whether she’s actually a security ministry spy or his partner for real… but there’s no such romantic subtext here… I’m sort of wishing it had gone that route, given what’s really happening plot wise. Instead we have to rely on our other story…. in it, Manon wakes from her coma following the car crash and finds that the miracle of modern medicine and the best of plastic surgery seem to have put her back together with only a couple of minor scratches. One problem…. she’s got amnesia and can’t remember a thing since she woke up. Bummer. Her mom tells her that everything is alright, that with time it’ll all come back, but Manon can’t help but feel…. alien…. in her own skin. Her mom is a stranger to her… and somehow everything is just plain wrong….
Jump back to Hoffmann…. seems he’s persona non grata with the rest of the cops for letting his partner get killed. He’s on suspension, until he’s suddenly returned to duty, given a new partner he doesn’t want….. and handed the case of finding out who’s committing a series of murders… Murders in which the only link seems to be a series of tiny scars around the victims eyes. Only one victim seems to have survived the electroshock torture… and he’s had his memory completely wiped away…. big help there. The latest victim of the unknown killer to surface is the body of an illegal Russian immigrant girl, Tatiana, who disappeared from her flat along with her sister Helena within the last month or so….
Sooooo now…. let’s see if Neko’s got her lil’ brain wrapped around this one…. We have kidnapped girls…. memory erasure…. a vulnerable young woman with no memory alone in a creepy hospital that has the world best plastic surgeon on staff….. Sigh…. I wish I didn’t see where this was going, but I did… and so will you. Unfortunately, the climax of the whole film relies on you NOT figuring out the whole thing so easily. If you do… like Neko did… you’ll spend the whole rest of the movie just watching the pieces fall into place without any real surprises or anything to look forward to. It’s probably not necessary, but here’s Neko’s “Spoiler Alert!!” just in case it’s still needed.
Eventually we find out that Chrysalis is the secret codename for a government sponsored cyber program to make a machine to wipe memories from people, as punishment for crimes, to create sleeper agents, and to generally do all sorts of nasty illegal “black op” things… you get the picture. Marie’s dad pulled the strings to get her assigned to the case so that when Hoffmann finds Chrysalis, the government can swoop in and recover it. Guess who stole it? Yep…. good ol’ Nicolov, ex-Bulgarian secret service agent and all around bad guy…. Nicolov can’t run the gosh darn thing, but luckily brilliant Professor Brügen can…. and she’s needs something that Nicolov can supply. Her daughter…. or a reasonable replacement anyway…. From this point forward it’s only a matter of time before our hero gets his own noggin’ flushed…. and then he has to rely on his partner Marie to find the machine… get even with Nicolov and generally wrap things up.
Yep… that’s it in a nutshell. So was “Chysalis” a bad film? Not completely….. I did enjoy the characters themselves, and the acting was good throughout. I just wish they’d have dug a bit deeper for some real suspense. Knowing that Manon is really Helena does ruin much of the climax…. but at least the plot wasn’t as almost incomprehensible as some of the cyberpunk stories can get. The action sequences are top notch… good fight choreography too, with that weird fusion of kickboxing, savate, and ultimate mixed martial art stuff you see in some movies these days. There are two fights between Hoffmann and Nicolov, one in a tiny bathroom that is just plain brutal…. and one at the climax that are excellent and very well filmed. The science fiction elements work too…. nothing outlandish or unbelievable, just good simple extrapolations of current technology and ideas.
So in conclusion, Neko gives this one 3 “Meows” out of 5 with one or two purrs for solid action elements but gives you the warning that if you like your plots a little less transparent, you might want to wait to see this one on TV rather than plunk down your hard earned cash for the DVD in these hard economic times. The Region 1 disc comes in Letterboxed format, with both the original french Audio Track and an English dubbed one. Good english subtitles are provided, and even include the “Making Of” featurette as well.
There’s a Trailer…. and what kind of cruel Catgirl Movie Reviewer would I be not to link it in for you? Hehehehe!!