In a not-so-distant future, the world is running out of oil and the underground train systems have been connected into a gigantic subway network beneath Europe. Whenever Roger (Vincent Gallo) enters this system he hears a stranger’s voice in his head. He looks to the mysterious Nina (Juliette Lewis) to help him escape the disturbing web of the Metro, but the farther they travel, the deeper they get involved in a dark conspiracy.
In 2024, Europe is a barren, over-industrialised wasteland. The population is transported between capital cities by a vast metro system, and travellers’ thoughts are controlled by a corporation that taps into their subconscious to further the profiteering of their soulless bosses.
Roger (voiced by Vincent Gallo), fearing a loss of sanity, commits a subversive act by questioning the voice in his head. A weak, pale, scrawny nobody, Roger breaks routine to follow a beautiful, mysterious woman (Juliette Lewis) and becomes unwittingly embroiled in a sinister rebel group conspiring to dismantle the dystopian society.
Metropia treads a well-worn Orwellian path (see: Brazil, 1985) but Tarik Saleh’s debut compensates for the lack of narrative invention with stunning visuals. The Swedish filmmaker utilises a photo-realistic animation style that morphs his human characters into vaguely alien-like beings – exaggerated facial features on bulbous heads, with thin slits for mouths that barely move when speaking.
Saleh’s dialogue veers between whispered, noir-ish utterings and hipster-slang (not the film’s strongest suit), but his composition and the atmospheric, dense urban landscapes are, at times, mesmerising. One doesn’t pay too much attention to the spoken sequences as there is usually so much else on-screen to focus on. In addition to the visuals, other plusses include the strong vocal work from Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier, and Alexander Skarsgård and Martin Hultman’s vivid art direction.
Europe’s production of adult-themed animation is a godsend. Films like Metropia, Renaissance (2006) and Film Noir (2007) are rarely presented to English-speaking audiences – each should be sought out by serious film buffs everywhere.