Mars et Avril [Mars and April] (2012)

It’s nice to see that some things never change.

As I’ve noted before, Canadian-made science fiction films have a tendency towards weirdness.

If you have any doubt about that, you might want to check out a few of their typical offerings, like Big Meat Eater, Terminal City RicochetMusic of the Spheres, Savannah Electric Monochrome Dystopia, or Cronenberg’s Shivers.

But you will note that most of those are from the Eighties.  And that does leave you wondering whether this tendency towards the weird still exists.

And one only need look at Mars et Avril to see that it sure looks like it.

Mars et Avril is one of those unclassifiably weird little films which only occasionally manage to slip through the filters imposed on film by the need to actually raise enough money to make whatever crazy film you may have envisioned.

But then, it may be a little easier if you can get a grant from Telefilm Canada.

Although that doesn’t explain why a two-million dollar film looks as good as Hollywood films which cost thirty or forty times more.

In a future world quite remote from ours in so many ways, Jacob Obus, an elderly and rather eccentric jazz musician has become a public sensation, thanks to his succession of custom-made instruments, each one based on a female model.  He plays regularly at a major club, and lots of women chase after him in the hopes of romance — or of becoming one of his models.

But Avril is different — and more persistent — than all the others and Jacob falls in love for the very first time.

Unfortunately, so does Jacob’s designer, Arthur Spaak, and things are getting complicated between the three of them, when Avril is sent to Mars in a teleporter accident…

The incredible look of the film is largely due to Belgian comic book artist François Schuiten who along with former ILM Senior Compositor Carlos Monzon created the films stunning effects and production design.  This was as much a passion project for them as it was for the director, Martin Villeneuve, who sold the film to them as a chance to do real artistic work.

Which, you have to admit, is something far too rare these days, that exceptional talents would choose a chance to do something truly creative rather than something more profitable.

Martin Villeneuve (who is, in fact, the brother of Denis Villeneuve, who directed Dune and Arrival) loved the story and world of Mars et Avril so much that he created it first as a pair of graphic novels and then struggled to make a movie version that lived up to his vision.  But he saw the very limitations of his project as a source of inspiration and an opportunity.  The end result is quite remarkable, thanks to its dreamy look and rich lighting.  It reminds me a bit of another, lesser-known science fiction film with a rich visual look, Patalghar, although Mars et Avril is far more ambitious and offers us spacecraft, strange messages on the face of Mars, teleportation, and a lot of stunning dream imagery.

Perhaps the image which truly stands is the vision of sand dunes unnoticeably transformed into a woman’s body and then into a rugged outcropping of rocks.  Although Jacob’s old friend, Eugene Spaak who is the genius who transforms Arthur’s drawings into real instruments, may be even more effective: he decided to become a hologram so he could live forever, and has a ring of lights around his neck, and an often grainy and staticky image of his head projected onto his body.

Martin inserted this effect because that meant that he could get legendary Canadian stage director, playwright, and actor, Robert Le Page, to play the part despite being far too busy at the time.  Le Page also directed a few films himself, including the parallel worlds murder mystery, Possible Worlds, and a curious and very arty (and visual) film, The Far Side of the Moon, which borders on science fiction.   For all that it is a fairly straightforward sort of digital effect, it is one of the most powerful images of the film.  Le Page’s solid performance also ensures that Eugene never becomes just an effect, and there is a very nice moment at the end when he becomes solid for just an instant.

The story is primarily a love story, a classic romantic triangle, and yet it veers into dreams and visions, the planet Mars, a space mission, and the rather curious jazz of Jacob Obus.  While Villeneuve doesn’t share too much information with us about his strange future world, the detail and fantastic sense of design makes it all feel much larger and more developed.

Mars et Avril is a beautiful and meditative film, with a rich color palette and surprisingly good effects.  It gives us a glimpse of something far from us and yet almost familiar, and does so in a tone which is at once somber and yet playful.  It isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes, and the odds are that not too many people will see the first Science Fiction film made in Quebec, but for those who love art films, those who love thoughtful and unusual science fiction films, and for those who are willing to explore the stranger cinematic lands the average filmgoer dare not visit, Mars et Avril offers something unique.

As unique as one of Jacob’s instruments…



Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



And the strange mystery of Iron Bread

3 thoughts on “Mars et Avril [Mars and April] (2012)

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