Swedish director Tarik Saleh has crafted a carefully plotted story in METROPIA, so carefully in fact that it took me a full week to decide how I felt about it. It’s the year 2024, and Europe is connected by one vast subway system that’s monopolized by a company that has aspirations to greater things. An everyday worker, Roger spends his days at a job that’s beaten the life out of him and his mornings and evenings with his loving girlfriend. But Roger is so lifeless that he’s impervious to Anna’s affection, and he’s so aware of his own apathy that he’s consciously irritated by it. The only sun in his life comes in the form of a shampoo bottle that has as its logo the image of a stunning blonde model. Trust me when I say that this is all very Orwellian. After using the shampoo (and it should be mentioned that he’s bald, so his only motivation to use the product must be the girl on the label), Roger begins to hear voices. Is he going crazy? A chance meeting with the shampoo model on train yields some unlikely possibities—it turns out that there are people in Roger’s life who have a lot invested in him.
METROPIA is, if anything, one of those slow-motion, meticulous thrillers in which the pace is slow enough that you have no choice but to look for the little details. Superficially speaking, the film is visually stunning, with character models that are so lifelike and yet so artificial at the same time (for instance, I couldn’t get past Anna’s tattoo—these animators do much to inject their personal style into the visuals in such a way that makes everything look cooler). The bad news is that this all will suck you in and then submerge you, because the character development and dialogue are both so understated.
Getting through the film was also bit of work—there are no big laughs, no real scenes that will just blow you away, which is rare for animated films these days—and it wasn’t until a few days later that I was able to fully appreciate what was going on. I’ve gone from very lukewarm on this film to very excited about it, especially given the twist at the end that again, is so understated that some viewers may miss it completely. If anything, the lack of excitement in METROPIA shouldn’t take away from the otherwise masterful job that Saleh has done here. Perhaps this is a film strictly for the buffs, but I think people who know what they’re getting going in will be able to appreciate it more.