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Reviews - Mars and April

A beautiful and deliberately esoteric slow-moving science-fiction film, Mars And April (Mars et Avril) will appeal to admirers of the comic book works of French writer/artists such as Jean Giraud (aka Meobius) and Philippe Druillet, though fans of pacier and more action-packed sci-fi fare will be frustrated by its philosophical talkiness.

The film is adapted from Martin Villeneuve’s two acclaimed graphic novels of the same name, and for the film version he collaborated with Belgian comic book artist Francois Schuiten (who drew the series Les Cites Obscures) to construct the elegant and stylish look of Mars And April. Debut writer/director Martin Villeneuve’s film had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

The film is set against a backdrop of a futuristic Montreal, where 3D newscasts are detailing humanity’s ambitious plans to finally set foot on Mars as three astronauts travel to the red planet. Elderly charismatic musician Jacob Obus (Jacques Languirand) slows down time and entrances audiences as he plays hypnotic music on instruments inspired by women’s bodies, designed by his young friend Arthur (Paul Ahmarani).

A love triangle of sorts develops when both Jacob and Arthur fall in love with charismatic photographer April (Caroline Dhavernas), who is obsessed with Jacob, and uses Arthur as a way to try and meet him. Arthur designs an instrument based on her body, but things get complex when it turns out the design is similar to a shape found on Mars by Arthur’s father, the inventor, cosmologist Eugene Spark (Robert Lepage), who unveils a new theory about man’s desire to reach Mars and helps Jacob find the true meaning of life and love.

Martin Villeneuve (brother of director Denis Villeneuve, who made Incendies) shot the film almost entirely on green screen, working closely with acclaimed theatre director/actor Robert Lepage, who optioned the rights to the graphic novels in 2005. Lepage decided he had no time to make the film adaptation, but encouraged Villeneuve to direct.

In fact it is just Lepage’s head that features in the film itself. Eugene Spark is actually a body with a hologram as a head, and Lepage shot the scenes via six cameras trained on his head, while another actor played the cosmologist’s body.

The stunning futuristic Montreal is lovingly produced via the special effects, creating an unworldly and dreamy future city that fits perfectly with the graphic novel style. The audience for the film will be relatively niche. This type of esoteric sci-fi - such as Enki Bilal’s 2004 film Immortal (Ad Vitam) – works well in France and with fans of comics anthology Metal Hurlant and similar graphic novels, but rarely breaks out into the mainstream.

Of the performers, Caroline Dhavernas is the pick of the bunch, imbuing April with a captivating grace and sense of energy that some of the other performers lack (as if they are slightly hampered by the green screen format), and it is easy to see why she enraptures the two very different men.


A trippy science-fiction fable about the musicality of the universe that's set in Montreal and on the Red Planet, the sumptuously designed "Mars and April" is certainly one of a kind. Multihyphenate French-Canadian artist and Cirque du Soleil alumnus Martin Villeneuve here adapts his eponymous graphic novels, which sure look and sound like they belong on the bigscreen, even if the mise-en-scene is occasionally somewhat fuzzy. With its emphasis on music and romance instead of intergalactic battles, the pic belongs squarely in the arthouse sphere, though marketing this odd if always imaginative beast beyond fests might prove tricky.

Celebrated 75-year-old musician Jacob Obus (Jacques Languirand, another Quebec multihyphenate) plays entire concerts on otherworldly instruments designed by Arthur (Paul Ahmarani), the son of Eugene Spaak (Robert Lepage, also one of the exec producers), a hermit whose face consists of a hologram.

Their solid player-designer-builder triangle comes undone when a beautiful woman, photographer April (Caroline Dhavernas), comes into their lives, and the non-hologram men fall under her spell. Arthur, who becomes one of April's long-exposure portraiture subjects, conceives an instrument inspired by her body, which Jacob in turn tries to play.

Teleportation is already a reality for the inhabitants of this futuristic version of Montreal, and a mission to Mars also figures into the story. The foreshadowing of this is clearer for Francophones, since "Mars" in French literally designates both the Red Planet and the month of March, directly connecting Mars/March to April.

Sans rousing battle or action sequences, the film is that rare sci-fi spectacle that foregrounds elements other than Manichean ideas of good and evil -- in this case romance, music and philosophizing about the universe. Combined with the pic's golden-brown-hued look and oft-imaginative design, it makes for a distinctive whole that always fascinates on some level, even if the relative inexperience of the tyro helmer, the younger brother of "Incendies" director Denis Villeneuve, can be felt in the way he sometimes struggles to keep all the film's balls in the air. Villeneuve is also aided by a cast that's perfectly in synch with the material.

Taking a cue from the director's graphic novels, Belgian comicbook artist and occasional production designer Francois Schuiten ("Mr. Nobody," "The Golden Compass") conjures a world in which traditional science-fiction elements, such as holograms and space travel, sit side-by-side with retro touches including vinyl records, old phones and darkroom-developed photos. The fascinatingly shaped instruments that Jacob plays deserve special mention, while tribal tattoos and Lady Gaga-esque hairdos also abound. More than a few elements recall the zany world of Luc Besson's equally spacey "The Fifth Element," a clear influence here.

Shot on a tight budget and with abundant use of greenscreen, the world Villeneuve puts onscreen nonetheless feels whole and, in the sci-fi context, credible. Visual effects, supervised by Carlos Monzon, are deftly integrated throughout. Sound design and score also rep huge plusses, with the latter, mostly of the mournful/soulful variety, nicely complementing the film's ideas about music and its relation to time and love. source
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