Interview: Christian Volckman

Written by: Mike Shaw

Deep, French and colour-free, but don’t run away just yet, because Christian Volckman’s Renaissance might just be the best film you see all year… just don’t mention Sin City.

When The Void talks to Christian Volckman, the first thing the Frenchman does is yawn. What could we have done to offend him so quickly into the interview? Maybe wearing that Nickelback tee was a bad idea…

Fortunately for us, the poor guy’s just exhausted from producing the most visually exciting film of the year, Renaissance.

“The film was finished at the beginning of 2006, and since then we have been screening and going to festivals and promoting,” says the director. “Altogether, including getting the money together, it’s taken six years.”

Set in Paris 2054, Renaissance focuses on Ilona, and young and brilliant researcher who is violently kidnapped. Avalon, her employer, and a giant multinational corporation want her found at any cost, so it is decreed that controversial cop and hostage retrieval specialist Bartholomew Karas be in charge of the case.

What could have been just a formulaic action-thriller is turned on its head by the inventive stylings that Volckman has employed. It’s animation in theory, but is like nothing that you’ve ever seen before. What did he do to achieve this unique look?

screenshot from renaissance

“I used motion capture, which is where you get real actors to act, but you only film markers on their body,” he explains. “So the only thing you get from the actors is their movements, like a wire frame, and once you get the movement, you can apply it to anything you want – and we applied it to a 3D character.

“It’s exactly the same technique as Gollum and King Kong, and it’s very, very expensive.”

It’s also been time consuming. Has the time been well spent?

“The reception so far has been pretty good,” says the director. “I don’t think it’s an easy film to go and watch. Once you’re in the cinema it’s okay – but the problem is that it’s a black and white science-fiction film. Most people normally go to see comedy, or action films, not things like this, so it will mean a change. It’s a difficult thing to get people into the cinemas in the first place.”

While watching Renaissance, it’s clear that the film has a modern sheen to it, yet at the same time there is a griminess that permeates every shot. If you had to describe it to friends, Sin City would be one of the first things that come to mind, and there are going to be a lot of parallels drawn between this and Frank Miller’s monochrome bloodbath. Unimpressed, Volckman disagrees: “Actually it’s completely different. I mean they used real actors against a green screen, while ours is an animated film.”

Maybe so, but the general moviegoer will just see black and white. Renaissance could be compared to worse things though.

“I didn’t like Sin City,” the director retorts. “I liked the comic books, but not the movie. I thought the film was not as strong as the comic book, graphically, and I don’t think that one film is long enough to tell the story of sex and violence that was there. After 20 minutes you’re like ‘so what?’

“For me it’s not so much a movie as an experiment with well known actors and plenty of money behind it. I don’t understand why they did the film like that.”

One thing both films do have in common, however, is the feeling of a classic noir.

renaissance screenshot

“It has, and we wanted to be radical and go all the way to the roots of cinema noir, and then try to bring it along a little further in terms of technology – taking the graphic look to its extreme and do something completely different to what people are used to.”

Would Volckman agree that the film has been imbued with a real comic-like spirit?

“There were a lot of comic-book artists who were very influential,” he admits. “For example an Argentinean artist called Alberto Breccia who produced some really great stuff, and also, of course, Frank Miller.”

Even though the film is set 50 years in the future, many of the ideas examined are relevant to today, for example drug abuse and genetic engineering. The director agrees: “It could be happening now. It was important that it was set in a Parisian metropole, in a world filled with French architecture, because I wanted to play with that architecture. Also setting it 50 years in the future meant that we could play and incorporate things that aren’t too far fetched, but that don’t exist now. It meant that we had more freedom.”

Unfortunately, in Britain and America, most people aren’t that free with their own tastes, and can be very blinkered when it comes to film (obviously not you, dear reader). Upon hearing that something is not in English, decide they’re not interested, and they miss out on a lot of great stuff. Recognising this, Volckman was wise enough to make some concessions, for example hiring a stellar voice-cast, including Bond to-be Daniel Craig.

“The film is more of an American or English film than French. For example we recorded it in English and the lip-synching was in English. If you make a French film, it’s only going to be released in France or small art cinemas, which is frustrating if you have spent a lot of time on it – you want it to go everywhere. We made a choice so it would have a wider audience, and I think it’s the right move.”

So once Renaissance has taken over the planet what’s next?

“I’m not sure what I’ll do next,” says Volckman. “Once I’ve done a film like this, it seems like I’ve gone to the limit of my obsessions on a graphic level – and because it’s so radical what I’ve done.

“I’m really inspired by painting and older movies like those by Fritz Lang, so now I need to find a new desire to do films. It’s hard. Everything is either entertainment or a social film, and I need to find a way to do something original. I’m just asking myself questions now.”

Author: Mike Shaw

Founder and editor of The Void, among other things. Interested in movies, tech, theatre, comics, WWE and UFC. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeshaw101 or check out his site

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