Immortal (ad vitam) (2004) poster

Immortal (ad vitam) (2004)



France/Italy/UK. 2004.


Director/Dialogue – Enki Bilal, Screenplay – Enki Bilal & Serge Lehman, Based on the Comic Books The Carnival of Immortals and The Woman Trap by Enki Bilal, Producer – Charles Gassot, Photography – Pascal Gennesseaux, Music – Goran Vejvoda, Animation – Duran Animation Studio, Animation Supervisor – Fabrice Delapierre, Visual Effects Supervisor – Jacquemin Piel, Makeup Design – Nicolas Degennes, Art Direction – Jean-Pierre Fouillet. Production Company – Telema/TF1 Films/CIBY 2000/RF2K/Force Majeure Productions/Medusa Film/TFS Star/Cofimage 13/Natexis Banques Populaires Image 2/Sofica Valor 6


Linda Hardy (Jill), Thomas Krestchmann (Nikopol), Thomas M. Pollard (Horus), Charlotte Rampling (Dr Elma Turner), Frederic Pierrot (John), Yann Collette (Inspector Froebe), Joe Sheridan (Senator Allgood), Corinne Jaber (Lily Liang)


New York City, 2095 where a variety of humans and aliens live together. A mysterious pyramid appears over the city and from within various Ancient Egyptian gods emerge out of hibernation. The god Horus takes the form of a falcon and flies down across the city. Elsewhere, a mysterious woman with blue hair and white skin turns up. Dr Elma Turner puzzles over the fact that Jill, as the mystery woman is named, has no memory of who she is, appears to only be three months old and that her organs are arranged differently from other humans. Meanwhile, Horus takes over the body of Nikopol, a man who has just emerged from thirty years in criminal suspension. Horus provides Nikopol with a cast iron replacement for his severed leg and then uses his body to set out to find Jill. At the same time, the city authorities are determined to stop what they perceive as the threat of the pyramid.

Immortal (ad vitam) is a film from French comic-book artist/writer Enki Bilal. Born in Yugoslavia, Enki Bilal emigrated to France in the 1960s. He began working as a cartoonist and then in the 1970s started writing and illustrating graphic novels. Immortal (ad vitam) is based on what is called Bilal’s Nikopol trilogy of graphic novels, which consist of The Carnival of Immortals (1980), The Woman Trap (1986) and Cold Equator (1992). Bilal worked as a graphic designer on films such as Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983) and Life is a Bed of Roses (1986), before making his debut as a director/writer with Bunker Palace Hotel (1989) and Tykho Moon (1996), both science-fiction films that are set in bizarre designer futures.

Immortal (ad vitam) is an amazing film. What stuns about Enki Bilal’s vision is the design element. Indeed, Immortal (ad vitam) is as everything as amazing as Blade Runner (1982) was when it came out two decades earlier. You could also draw an analogy to France’s The Fifth Element (1997), which attempted the same densely textured futuristic look.

Bilal creates an unrecognisable future New York City. People fly in vehicles that are like battered and grungy 1950s cars turned into flying machines; the city exists on levels where aliens live in the upper echelons that are uninhabitable to humans; Central Park is an Arctic wasteland; and the authorities release other-dimensional monsters into the sewer system. The costume design work is entirely amazing – none the more so than the incredible blue and white makeup job on Linda Hardy (she even has blue-purple nipples). This is the sort of vision that science-fiction should be all about.

New York City of the year 2095 in Immortal (ad vitam) (2004)
New York City of the year 2095
Ancient Egyptian gods over New York City in Immortal (ad vitam) (2004)
Ancient Egyptian gods over New York City

Enki Bilal has made Immortal (ad vitam) as a mixture of animation and live-action. Immortal (ad vitam) was one of a host of films that came out around the same time, which also included the likes of Casshern (2004), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) and Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning (2005), as well as the non-sf Sin City (2005), that leapt aboard the digital effects technology to create impossible worlds. In these films, sets exist as digital inserts inside a computer rather than being physically built, while the actors are filmed against green screens and then digitally integrated into these backgrounds – something that has become known as the Digital Backlot.

However, Enki Bilal has gone one step further and blended live-action actors with CGI animated characters. Certainly, the level of CGI is on the weaker side when you compare Immortal (ad vitam) to recent films that combine live-action and digital characters like the Star Wars prequels and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sometimes the mix of live-action and animation feels a little odd and disconcerting – the two do not integrate smoothly due to the weaker quality of the animation and it is never less than obvious that some of the characters are animated – but mostly Immortal (ad vitam) has a level of imagination that rides well above this.

The minus side might be that Immortal (ad vitam) is a triumph of style over content. Enki Bilal has thrown in a conceptually odd mixture of Ancient Egyptian gods, aliens, genetic engineering and predestined cosmic mysticism. On a story level Immortal (ad vitam) seems to be a film about a fascinating future where strange things happen, although we are not sure why they do. Some of the backstories to the film seem peculiarly lacking – like why Nikopol ended up sentenced to cryo-sleep. Linda Hardy has an undeniably exotic presence. However, Thomas Kretschmann is wooden (although it is hard to tell if this is him or just the dubbing).

Trailer here

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