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Review: Mars Express


- Jérémie Périn successfully explores the frontier between science-fiction and crime in a thrilling first feature film set against a backdrop of artificial intelligence and Martian colonisation

Review: Mars Express

"Some of my students rent out their brains to brain farmers, but if they end up duplicating them we’re going to have serious problems". Welcome to the beginning of the 23rd century and to Mars Express [+see also:
interview: Jérémie Périn
film profile
, French director Jérémie Périn’s excellent first feature film which was unveiled in the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéma de la Plage line-up and is now gracing the official competition of this week’s 42nd Annecy Animated Film Festival.

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For some months now, the staggering progress made by artificial intelligence has been a cause of concern for the media, industrialists and politicians. As for the potential colonisation of other planets in order to smuggle out humans from a planet on its way to climactic self-destruction, this classic science-fiction focal point is now fuelling the fantasies and technological aims of some of the world’s richest people. By intertwining these two topics and extrapolating well-established, modern, scientific data, Jérémie Périn and his co-screenwriter Laurent Sarfati have crafted a fascinating, futuristic setting and story, because, at long last, they’re both totally plausible. We find ourselves in the heart of Noctis, a domed colony on Mars with road networks, self-driving vehicles, telepathic virtual reality transmission of sounds, images and data, molecular drugs, brain hiring, IT languages Babel+ and Hegel 7, software takeovers and, above all, a myriad of multi-purpose androids, including "the saved" (dead people brought back to life electronically), "the augmented" (whose abilities are enhanced tenfold) and the first "organic" robots. Droids which some wish to set free and which others are totally against them on account of a bloody rebellion which took place some years previously in Novigrad.

At the heart of the tale are private detective Aline Ruby (a sober alcoholic) and her teammate Carlos Rivera (who died five years earlier and is now a Vigil 3L1 android). They’re investigating the disappearance of June Chow, a student in her second year of cybernetics, based on the Alan Turing campus and wanted for piracy, specifically accused of "hacking" a robot. It’s an investigation, at the behest of mega-rich businessman Roy Jacker, which unearths a number of surprises and whose outcome has the power to change everything in Noctis…

Playing skilfully with the codes of film noir and incorporating twists and turns which come thick and fast (traps, arrests, space travel, interrogations, chases, etc.), Mars Express strikes the perfect balance between a relaxing, entertaining film and a philosophical-existential exploration, wholly resonating with modern-day dilemmas. It’s a blend delivered via sophisticated (though never ostentatious) graphics and stripped-back realism, testifying to the well-digested influence of Japanese animation and manga culture, and science-fiction fundamentals à la Isaac Asimov. It’s a cinematic European adventure, successfully depicting "the Holy Grail of emancipators” by charting an individual route through the highly referenced ocean of futuristic animation.

Mars Express is produced by Everybody on Deck in co-production with Je suis bien content, EV.L Prod, Plume Finance, France 3 Cinéma, Shine Conseils, Amopix and Gebeka Films. Sales are entrusted to mk2 Films.

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(Translated from French)

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