Duration: 105 minutes
Directors: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Writers: Franck Ekinci Benjamin Legrand
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Marc-André Grondin
By Caz Armstrong
Steampunk! Scientists! Women in STEM! “April and the Extraordinary World” (“Avril et le monde truqué”) (2016) is an exciting adventure with a strong theme of nature vs humans.
Pay attention as the film opens because the premise comes thick and fast…
Following the disappearance of prominent scientists many key innovations have not taken place and the world is forced to rely on outdated technology like steam power. An energy crisis ensues and scientists are forced to either serve the empire in a global energy war or go into hiding.
Among them are Paul and Annette Franklin (Olivier Gourmet and Macha Grenon), who have been working on a serum to cure many illnesses and save lives. But following a dramatic encounter with the police, their young daughter April (Marion Cotillard) and her cat Darwin (Philippe Katerine) are forced to live alone in hiding.
Years later April meets local police informer Julius (Marc-André Grondin) and together they go on an adventure to save humanity with science.
The mixture of steampunk and female scientists in this film is brilliant. The fact that April is young and sparky is great too, she really packs a punch. But she’s also very caring. She loves her elderly cat Darwin and is keen to do the right thing- even if she has to do a little thievery on the side to get by.
Philippe Katerine’s performance of Darwin the cat is notable for its lack of ‘quirky sidekick’ vibes. All too often these sidekick characters can be overplayed for comedic effect. And while there is a small touch of that, it is nothing like to the levels of many, particularly American, films.
The world in which April lives is full of intricate inventions, potions and grime. The colour palette has a lot of muted brown tones as their world is devoid of life and nature while being filled with smog and industry. Some of the contraptions on offer are fascinating, and it mixes so well with the wonder of the age.
It’s quite dystopian though, especially when watched during this Coronavirus pandemic. It’s normal for people to wear gas masks because the air is too poisonous to breathe for long. Nature is a rarity as it has been stripped for resources for decades. A single tree sits in a big glasshouse for people to visit. Let this be a warning!
This is certainly a film of two halves and someone who falls in love with the world of the first half may find it a stretch to be brought into the second. Although the themes are the same, you will need to remember a specific detail from the opening scene to understand who the main characters are in the second half.
In that sense it may be slightly better suited to a mini-series of more bitesize chunks that aren’t trying as hard to be part of a single whole.
Overall this film is a great adventure. It has Miyazaki-like levels of messaging about nature vs humans and a young female scientist protagonist to boot. The imagery is incredibly imaginative and intricately drawn without being too fussy.
If you can stick with it through to the ending you should really enjoy this steampunk adventure.