Avalon (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Mamoru Oshii
viewed: 04/06/08

After breaking up my “numbers” movie marathon, I’ve been sort of trying to figure out what I felt like doing…for quite a long time…couple of days.  On a whim, at the video store, I grabbed four science fiction/fantasy films, varying greatly from locale and background, with the idea that I’d sit and watch them all consecutively.  And I decided to watch them in alphabetical order.

So, Avalon was first.  I don’t even recall hearing about this movie before.  I stumbled on it at the video store, fitting with my theme.  The only notable thing of recognition was that it was directed by Mamoru Oshii, whose 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell was one of the popular high points of the form.  Apparently, he’d directed quite a few notable anime, but other than that I was not familiar with him.

The film is kind of interesting.  Shot mostly in a golden yellow sepia, set in a somewhat Matrix (1999)-like universe, a dark city, apparently Warsaw, but one muted by the color pallette, the film is about an underground world of illegal video game playing, in which some people are professionals.  The gorgeous Malgorzata Foremniak is the dark heroine, a loner “warrior” whose entire world revolves around the game, Avalon.

Avalon is a fighting game, with tanks and helicopters and shooting.  It could be any number of those first-person shooting games, and sometimes the camera attempts to emulate the perspective of those games.  The narrative is less explicated than in the average film, leaving huge ellipses of knowledge and understanding, occasionally making you really wonder what this is all supposed to represent.

Foremniak’s character, Ash, is bent on achieving the highest level of the game before anyone else, at any risk, the largest of which leaves players “real world” bodies in a state of stupor and vegetation.  She is seeking an old teammate who has been lost in the mysterious depths of the game.

Just when I was really wondering where it was going, the film does take an interesting turn, one in which its primary point of question is most pointedly evoked: which of these worlds is truly reality?

The film is not brilliant.  It’s brutally slow at times.  And when it comes down to the points of narrative description, details explaining situations, the pressing of the ideas are just inelegant.  Which is a shame.  It’s got some interesting aspects, in its unexplained worlds of reality, the open spaces in which you just have to wonder about what is going on.  And the usage of Warsaw, the space, is interesting, especially from a Japanese-produced science fiction “thriller”…or is that “thinker”?

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