Cannes 2023: 'Mars Express' is an Incredible Animated Sci-Fi Creation

May 23, 2023

Mars Express Review

Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, there's one extraordinary animated film that quietly premieres in one of the side sections. Some of my other favorites from the past are: I Lost My Body (2019), The Summit of the Gods (2021), and Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be (2022). This year's big animation discovery is a French animated feature called Mars Express, a hard sci-fi creation from director Jérémie Périn. At the fest there's also the animated film Robot Dreams, which I already reviewed and it's wonderful as well, but this one completely rocked me. Both of these films involve robots, which is a bit of a fun coincidence. Mars Express is pretty much a French update on the iconic Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell, featuring a noir story involving androids and artificial intelligence and hacking and robots galore. While it's not as great as GITS, it's as close as anyone has come in YEARS to making another great "what's hidden in the code" movie.

Right from the start, with a song playing over the opening scene, I knew I was in for something truly radical with Mars Express. It throws us right into the mix with a very Ghost in the Shell / Blade Runner-influenced story where cops are trying to find humanoid robots that have been jailbroken and freed of their restrictive code. The film focuses on two private investigators - Aline Ruby, a human, and Carlos Rivera, an android replica of her deceased partner. They travel from Earth to Mars where they try to chase down Jun Chow, a cybernetics student who has found some strange code while working on programming a robot. Similar to I, Robot, this rogue code allows the robots to break from their hard-line directives (to not harm humans, etc) and violently take over - whether by their own free will or external manipulation. This leads Aline & Carlos into a Chinatown-esque noir story where everyone at the very top of the universe, including the corporation run by Chris Royjacker making all of the robots, is involved. It's an incredibly complex, distant future sci-fi adventure thriller set mostly on a fully colonized Mars, with phenomenal geeky world building and intricacy.

In all honesty, it's a bit challenging to grasp everything going on and all of the different characters on a first viewing. It's so dense, and there's so many different people and robots and plot twists and revelations, that it's overwhelming. However, I can't really criticize it over all this complexity because while watching I had a strong feeling that writer / director Jérémie Périn, with co-writer Laurent Sarfati, and all of the animators, know everything about this world they built from scratch. The attention to detail in every aspect, from the backgrounds to the various robots to the hacking itself to the interconnected elements of this future to the story, are so mesmerizing there's no way they could make this without having a meticulous understanding of everything happening. I am blown away by how spectacular this movie is and how BIG it gets. There's even a few background hints about humans looking to colonize planets in different solar systems. It's remarkably ambitious and as a sci-fi geek, I was in awe the entire film trying to pick up on & analyze every component. I'm looking forward to delving in deeper on repeat viewings and taking a closer look at all of these details.

Mars Express features a French voice cast lead by Léa Drucker as Aline, Daniel Njo Lobé as Carlos, plus Mathieu Amalric, Marie Bouvet, Sébastien Chassagne, and Geneviève Doang as Jun. While all of the voice acting is competent, none of it really stands out; I couldn't even tell that it is Mathieu Amalric until I noticed his name in the credits. It also comes with an awesome electronic score by musicians Fred Avril and Philippe Monthaye – another one of my favorite parts about the film (I'm already impatiently waiting to download the album whenever it's available). France is one of the only countries that can rival Japan in terms of animation originality and storytelling. The programmers at Cannes know this is an incredible film, but they had no idea where to put it, so they programmed it as a premiere at the "Cinéma de la Plage" – the screen on the beach that anyone can walk into at night. Most film critics don't even know it's playing, but I'm so happy I took to the time to seek it out and watch it on the big screen. It's going to blow everyone away when it gets a proper release (later this year in France, though nothing set internationally yet). Stay tuned.

Alex's Cannes 2023 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd - @firstshowing

Find more posts: Animation, Cannes 23, Review, Sci-Fi



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