Julien Leclercq’s feature film debut (after his 2004 short Transit) is ostensibly a detective story set in a super-future world where a bulldog cop named David Hoffman (Albert Dupontel), barely recovering from the loss of his girlfriend & partner, is dragged back into service to hunt down her killer, only to discover he’s being used to rout out criminal elements threatening an elaborate military brainwashing scheme.
The trick, as with any mystery, is how to introduce the hook, stagger the clues, and converge multiple story threads in a finale that explains an elaborately conceived plan, which Leclercq does achieve by the end of Chrysalis. With the exception of Hoffman’s new partner Marie Becker (Marie Guillard), everyone seems to hold a secret or is living an emotionally repressed life, and as happens to Marie, when sympathy and hesitation are present, it quickly turns a situation dangerous.
The conspiracy angle in the script by Leclercq, Franck Philippon, Nocilas Peufallit, and Aude Py (already too many cooks in the kitchen) comes in a hastily conceived finale, but the dual storylines of a detective hunting for his girlfriend’s killer and of a doctor (Marthe Keller) engaged in brainwashing experiments work well enough; the only conceit is that some reconstructive surgery done on one character is more flawless than one is willing to believe, as was the case in John Woo’s outrageous Face/Off (1997).
The most gripping aspect of Chrysalis, though, is the visual design that emphasizes modernity: clean geometric shapes, the combination of glass and stainless steel, and a super use of existing architecture – modern as well as Brutalist – convey a futuristic world growing from ornate Parisian relics. As with Gattaca (1997), it’s the emphasis on clean designs and strong visuals that help sell the film’s futuristic fantasy world, and Leclercq makes use of some very elegant compositions and camera movements (including a long tracking shot that follows a chase over and through some metal obstacles).
The physically menacing Alain Figlarz, who plays the hunted serial killer Nicolov, also choreographed the hand-to-hand combat scenes, which Leclercq photographs with enough patience to appreciate the movements, the muscles, and the down time between exhausted fighters.
Chrysalis is nowhere as incoherent as Empire of the Wolves / L’empire des loups (2005) – another French thriller that blenders a serial killer with an identity crises subplot and a police investigation headed by a burnt-out cop – but it’s a cold film whose imagery and sedate performances are the main attraction. Had less writers been involved with the script, the story may have evolved into a more defined work with deeper characters, but Leclercq’s visual acumen and use of subtle sounds definitely make up for the film’s weaknesses.
Anchor Bay’s DVD includes a crisp transfer of the film at 1.78:1, although the French trailer and making-of featurette feature film clips in 2.35:1 - the original scope ratio present on the Region 2 Paramount release. The film looks a bit tight at 1.78:1, since it's the edges that have been cropped off.
The making-of feature also originates from the French release, wherein the cast and crew are shown filming in and around Paris, plus vignettes on the digital effects, sets, camera movements, and stunt choreography by co-star Alain Figlarz, who choreographed 36 Quai des Orfevres (2004), Agents secrets / Spy Games (2004), Babylon A.D. and Largo Winch (both 2008, and co-starring Melanie Thierry). Actors Dupontel, Guillard, Thierry and Figlarz provide some comments, but unfortunateky there's no material with veteran Patrick Bauchau (TV's The Pretender and The Kindred) and Keller (Black Sunday, Fedora).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan