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Mars et Avril
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by Jay Seaver

"Thoroughly funky French-Canadian sci-fi."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FEST: As much as I'm glad the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival is getting a better class of movies, I kind of wish that the timing of "Mars et Avril" hitting the festival circuit and then having its regular release in Quebec was such that I could have seen it at Montreal's Fantasia Festival, because that would have been a hoot. It's elaborately oddball, and its quirk is distinctly French-Canadian, so while it's generally fun, I have to imagine that crowd would be especially into it.

Jacob Obus (Jacques Languirand) is the toast of late-twenty-first-century Montreal, a 75-year-old jazz musician famous for the instruments he plays inspired by the female form. Those instruments are designed by Arthur Spaak (Paul Ahmarani) and built by Arthur's father Eugene (Robert Lepagee), and Jacob makes it a rule never to speak to the models. Avril (Caroline Dhavernas) has different ideas; the beautiful young photographer seduces both Jacob and Arthur. Not Eugene, though - he's gone virtual and spends his spare time trying to convince scientists that Mars is imaginary, willed into existence by the collective consciousness, which may present issues for the three "marsonautes" en route.

If nothing else, Mars et Avril is a blast to look at - co-writer/director Martin Villeneuve adapts his own graphic novel (which I believe is more fumetti than hand-drawn), and seems determined to fit every entertaining visual in that he can, no matter how absurd or unnecessary it is. So Eugene's head is a hologram, Jacob has amazing facial hair, and the club where he plays is made of glass and underwater. The setting is full of transformed and exaggerated landmarks, such as the pile of blocks built to house athletes during the 1976 Olympics now approaching skyscraper dimensions. The instruments seem like something out of a Jodorowsky/Moebius graphic novel. It's gaudy, bright eye candy more akin to The Fifth Element than any other sci-fi film.

The plot is somewhat wispy, with Villeneuve spending much of the movie developing his world and only really introducing a problem to be solved soon before setting out to solve it - and even then, he sets the third act conflict up with funny bits as opposed to dramatic pronouncements and foreshadowing of imminent doom. There's a fair amount of clever stuff underneath the light-hearted exterior, though: The film pokes at celebrity culture, as well as the rather literal objectification of women that Obus's instruments represent. Eugene's choice of a post-human existence isn't the center of the story, but it's given enough thought to be a real and believable part of the characters.

Those characters are a little less colorful than the movie's visuals, but they're still nicely drawn. Paul Ahmarani is the most obviously impressive as Arthur; he's obviously lovestruck while still being a fairly dour fellow, resentful of how little credit he is given. Jacques Languirand is nearly as good, starting from an old man who knows he's the master of something and layering in embarrassment and rejuvenation. Caroline Dhavernas doesn't have quite so strong a character, but she gives Avril an impish charm that keeps the audience somewhat fond of her when she's treating Arthur pretty poorly. Robert Lepage generates an amusing arrogance as Eugene Spaak's head (it's Jean Asselin from the shoulders down, but their body language merges very well).

All of this put together is a small, colorful delight - the funny bits come and go quickly enough to get their chuckles and not wear out their welcome, the whole thing is pretty, and the story that eventually gets told has some heft to it without ever losing sight of the film's goal of being entertaining. The Quebecois production doesn't have the same sort of polish as something from Hollywood, but it's had enough time spent on it to look and sound impressive. It's a special sort of quirk, but it certainly can make the audience smile.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=24768&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/14/13 15:46:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2013 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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