Mars Express is an animated sci-fi written and directed by Jérémie Périn with a cast of famous French voices. The film was part of the Adelaide Film Festival program and is also part of the Brisbane International Film Festival which is still on.
Aline Ruby is a private detective and Carlos is her robot work partner. Together they are tasked with investigating the disappearance of a young university student. Their investigations taking place between both Earth and Mars reveal a murky world of robot hacking, brain farms, and corruption. Mars Express also reveals growing conflict between robots and the humans who control them.
As mentioned above, there are also some famous voices among the cast. Aline Ruby is voiced by Léa Drucker (who was in Incredible but true, The Colours of Fire, and The Nannies at this year’s AFFFF). Her work partner Carlos is voiced by Daniel Njo Lobé (a French actor who has done a lot of dubbing into French the voices of actors such as Harold Perrineau (Lost, Sons of Anarchy), Mike Colter (Luke Cage, Evil), Hill Harper (Les Experts : Manhattan, Good Doctor), Idris Elba (Luther) or Mahershala Ali (True Detective)). Matthieu Almaric voices Chris Roy Jacker (he will be familiar to anyone who watched the wonderful series The Bureau).
In this futuristic world, robots are common place, and cars are all driverless. People and their robots live on Mars. Phone calls take place simply through thoughts. Words don’t need to be physically exchanged. Similarly, you can communicate with someone via thought alone when you need to.
Mars Express is also cleverly written, with some humour thrown in for good measure. Even so far in the future, relatable to today’s audiences. Even a few centuries away from now, robots will have to shut down for updates and sometimes have insufficient memory for them – a problem all too familiar to anyone with a phone full of photos and video when it comes to update time. It’s also quite inconvenient when you’re having a simple medical procedure performed by a robot and it suddenly shuts down and restarts itself mid-procedure and there’s nothing you can do but wait.
The colourful fast-paced action animation combined with a pulsating soundtrack keeps the audience on their collective toes. While the film is described in the Adelaide Film Festival program as “animated French sci-fi noir”, chatting with people more familiar with the genres has revealed that Mars Express is not typical of the noir part of the category. Whereas noir films are usually quite sombre in its appearance, this film takes place in the daylight, futuristic and clean city-scapes with vast plains of desert and towering mesas in the distance; there is no perpetual night, no continuous rain.
Interestingly, whereas a lot of sci-fi is set only a few decades away, and we are supposed to believe that there are whole civilizations living in cities on other planets, Mars Express stepped away from the typical pattern by not telling us upfront what year we were in (the press kit suggests 2200) and in so doing, made the idea of transport between Earth and Mars and humans and robots living together on Mars, more credible.
In addition to the timeline factor, Jérémie Périn & Laurent Sarfati have clearly paid a lot of attention to detail having people living in domed cities, machines that update, and even consulting a cosmetologist for accuracy of the depiction of Mars.
In so doing, Mars Express has achieved what so few sci-fi films have managed to achieve. We would be interested to see Jérémie Périn & Laurent Sarfati’s other works.
Ultimately, Mars Express is a film for lovers of animation and sci-fi but equally those who are new to the genre like this reviewer.
Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Film Festival
Mars Express hasn’t yet been released in France. It will be in cinemas there from 22 November 2023.
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