"I am the dark dreams that make you shiver at night. I am the embryo".
Shot over the course of four years, this haunting slice of nightmarish surrealism is set in an alternate world where strange creatures - some of which resemble trees, others look more akin to a bird crossbred with a werewolf - rule over the last remaining humans.
The surviving few are kept as slaves to these strange invaders, who have banished things like fruit and flowers in favour of a mechanical world where only oil and metal can be smelt. Among these survivors is a scientist who is forced to perform vivisection operations on prisoners in a bid to find the embryo of the universe, which is the only thing that can save humanity from these mechanical animals.
You've got that? Great.
Now, we meet The Man (Stephane Bilodeau), the last freeborn person on Earth. He's wondering through the snow one day when he happens upon a strange bird-like creature that's fallen from a tree. Taking it back to his home, he cuts it open discovers said embryo inside it. Recognising its worth, he slices open his own belly and conceals the all-important seed in there.
You're still with me, yeah?
Shortly after the man begins to receive aural and visual signals from the creatures, beckoning him to hand over the embryo to them. The last thing they want is for it to grow into a being known as the origin of everything - and with the power to wipe them out. But the man's not about to give up the saviour of mankind lightly...
MECANIX is a French-Canadian production from 2003. It's shot on 16mm and filmed through a stylised sepia-tainted filter. There are no time-placing fashions, locations or artefacts - this is a world of cave-like dwellings and constantly whirring cogs. If I didn't know any better I'd have guessed it was made in the 1970s or 1980s.
As you've no doubt sussed, this one carries a strange storyline. It's told in non-linear fashion and there is almost no dialogue throughout. In fact, had I not had the benefit of the synopsis on the DVD's back cover, I'd have struggled to make head nor tail of this upon first viewing.
Its nightmarish visuals, kinetic merging of stop-motion animation and live-action violence, and industrial soundtrack brought to mind Shinya Tsukamoto's TETSUO: THE IRON MAN. Throw in healthy doses of the works of the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer, along with David Lynch's ERASERHEAD and the grimy spiritual symbolism of E Elias Merhige's BEGOTTEN, and you have a heady brew indeed. Moments of consciously ugly illustrations are interspersed throughout, reminding me further of the early animations of, say, Terry Gilliam or Walerian Borowczyk.
At 69 minutes in length, MECANIX races along at a brisk pace while assaulting the senses with its pounding, grating sound design and endlessly inventive visuals. Quite what its saying isn't always clear. There are points being made here about the nature of creation, the gift of life, evolution, the "illusion of being" as one important character puts it: I get all that - along with the biblical references to Adam and Eve, the coming of Christ etc. But I daresay subsequent viewings will reward in the form of discovering so many more messages hidden in director Remy M Larochelle's enigmatic little film.
Unearthed Films have released MECANIX onto US DVD in its uncut form. So those realistic vivisection scenes can be enjoyed in all their gruesome glory.
Their region 0 disc houses the film in a pleasingly warm and deep transfer which respects the film's original 1.33:1 ratio. Blacks hold up really well, which is imperative for a film with so many shades of dark such as this. As mentioned above, the whole film carries a sepia bent, so in terms of colour all I can say is - yes, the sepia seems very true to me! Images are grainy as you'd expect from a 16mm production, but satisfyingly so.
French audio is presented in 2.0. This is a robust offering, which is great to report as Daniel Lagace's inventive, incessant sound design and Southern Lord's ambient musical interludes are integral to the feel of the film. Easily readable English subtitles are burned-in. This is never a problem, especially when you consider there's so little dialogue here anyway.
The disc opens to an attractive animated main menu page. From there, an animated scene selection option proffers access to the film by way of 9 chapters.
The only extra is an interview with Larochelle and producer Phillippe Chabot. This is an enjoyable 32-minute proposition from 2012, filmed by Film Bizarro Releasing. The pair are an affable duo as they read questions from a piece of paper and answer them enthusiastically, in English. Confessing to spending "four years in a basement drinking beer", they talk about their influences, how they met at school, their passion for completing the film, the reactions it garnered and much more. As they say at the start of this featurette, you could either watch this before or after a viewing of the main feature.
MECANIX is an interesting film, aesthetically sumptuous and beguiling in terms of symbolism. It's treated very well on Unearthed's excellent DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Unearthed Films|
|see main review|