Hidden amidst the more typical dramas and farces of the Alliance Français French Film Festival is Chrysalis, a surprisingly effective science fiction noir thriller.

Albert Dupontel is David Hoffmann, a detective in 2025 Paris working on a series of murders linked to the mysterious Dimitri Nicolov (Alain Figlarz). Chrysalis Meanwhile, leading holographic surgeon Professor Brügen (Marthe Keller) tries to restore the memory of her beloved daughter Manon (Mélanie Thierry) after an automobile accident almost claims her life. When Hoffmann’s partner is killed and the murders continue, he will be forced to confront the combined forces of organised crime and the French Intelligence services in his quest to get his man, leading to unexpected discoveries.

The most striking element of Chrysalis is its stunning visuals. The washed-out blacks, greys and blues may be on the verge of becoming passé for this kind of feature, but in Chrysalis they are used to brilliant advantage. Paris becomes a nether world that leaves no-one unaffected by its malaise – the lighting and cinematography create a foreboding atmosphere in which the bleak events find a welcome home.

Complimenting this aura is the performances of its leads – Hoffmann is a miserable man, despised by his peers and superiors, and yet determined to have his way. Dupontel makes his mono-syllabic responses interesting nonetheless. His performance in the rather incredible fight scenes he shares with Figlarz is superb – although these battles are choreographed to within an inch of their lives, their use of the environment around them and of basic human anatomy make for a thrilling spectacle. The other performances are adequate, although no other characters are given the level of development that Hoffmann enjoys. Thierry in particular stands out as Manon, with scenes lifting due to her rather arresting presence.

The exploration of memory that occurs in Chrysalis never quite reaches the level of a film such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it bears a striking resemblance to the technology in use in A Clockwork Orange. This aspect is never fully capitalised upon however, with possibilities and scenarios that may have been explored somewhat wasted. Perhaps this potential could have been further developed, although the film as it stands is a fast-paced and tightly edited 94 minutes without many flat spots, and the lack of further exposition may have been a conscious choice.

A film festival should offer a variety of genres, and Chrysalis allows this year’s French Film Festival a breadth without which it may otherwise have suffered. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 17th March 2008
Hoopla Factor: 4.0 stars

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