Julien Leclercq’s Chrysalis hides a very conventional minestrone of Philip K. Dick-‘inspired’ ideas within a gloriously-arrayed garment of exquisite cinematography and enviable French styling; it’s therefore ironic that a film about memory should be so forgettable.
Sad, too – genuine science-fiction movies (as opposed to fantasy films and action flicks with sci-fi accoutrements) are horrendously rare in this period compared with the previous decade, and we could really do with a hit or two to set the ball rolling again.
But neither Dick nor his appropriated themes are any guarantee of cinema-magic – check out Next and (much as I love it) Paycheck for the sad proof, and then add the cliché-touting Chrysalis to the list…
Set twenty years in the future in a Paris that is beginning to resemble Dubai, the film tells parallel but related stories of both heart-surgeon Marthe Keller – who is trying to bring her daughter back to health after a horrendous car accident – and hard-bitten cop Albert Dupontel, who strays into habitual psychosis after his wife and partner are murdered by Alain Figlarz’s psychopathic renegade Bulgarian secret-service agent.
The intercutting between the two plots seems intended to distract the viewer from the triteness of the ideas on offer by cinematic slight of hand. Likewise the almost monochromatic palette of greys and browns which dominate everywhere in a future that –not without elegance – looks a lot like a 1980s beer commercial. Neither the smart cutting nor the dazzling sterility of 2028 Paris can gloss over wheezing plot-clunkers like the ‘widower-cop out for revenge’, or the lamentable McGuffin of a gee-whiz science machine in the hands of a madman.
In this case the machine is capable of erasing, saving, rewriting and originating new memories, which is accomplished with Clockwork Orange-style eye-pincers, lights and a lot of very well-done instrumentation. For every inventive use of this machine – such as the villain delighting in erasing his nemesis’s memory of him, and the denouement, which explains some of the problems Marthe Keller’s daughter is having with remembering her past – there is unfortunately an accompanying cliché or slab of cinematic doggerel dragging you back in to the reality that you are watching a film that has been green-lit solely on the success of similar and better movies.
The cast, including Marthe Keller as the off-balance heart surgeon willing to go to any lengths to restore her daughter’s beauty, and Marie Guillard as the cop who is apparently being set up in order to catch the madman on the loose, are all excellent, and have some good dialogue to work with. But they, and the dialogue, are labouring in the service of a plot so derivative that it even throws in a ‘The press will have a field day with this’ moment at the end.
Even the most stunning scene in the film – where Keller performs heart-surgery on an overseas patient using a holographic surrogate – is a grab-bag of undigested images and ideas liberally sourced from the likes of Minority Report and Johnny Mnemonic, with Leo Delibes’ heart-rending Viens Mallika already familiar from Tony Scott’s The Hunger (and a famous British Airways commercial also directed by Scott). The moments that remain affecting in Chrysalis are also borrowed wholesale from the likes of Blade Runner, Solaris, The Sixth Day, Freejack…I could go on and on. Leclercq’s sin here is that he adds absolutely nothing new of any kind to these utterly undigested influences. And it’s a damn shame, not only because the film is so perfect in terms of visuals, acting, cinematography, music and sound…but also because there is a lot of mileage remaining in the allied themes of identity and memory.
If Chrysalis had aimed a little lower, turned down the pretension and played itself as a quickie sci-fi thriller having some fun with PKD and his heritage, it might just have hit. As it stands, it’s a dreadfully long haul.
Extras:France is so protectionist of its language that it has a council acting as a ‘firewall’ to stop too many foreign words entering the French dictionary. I was therefore surprised to see the original title of this release’s accompanying documentary is ‘Le Making Of Chrysalis’. Oh well, you can’t fight progress. This is a standard junket-driven doc, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, running at just over twenty-five minutes. There’s a trailer too.