Mars and April

Mars et Avril (English: Mars and April) is a 2012 Canadian science fiction film starring Jacques Languirand, Caroline Dhavernas, Paul Ahmarani and Robert Lepage. The movie, based on the photo-novels of the same name published by Sid Lee & la Pastèque,[1][2][3][4] is written, produced and directed by Martin Villeneuve.[5]

Mars et Avril
Official poster of the movie Mars et Avril
Directed byMartin Villeneuve
Produced by
Written byMartin Villeneuve
Starring
Music byBenoît Charest
CinematographyBenoît Beaulieu
Edited byMathieu Demers
Production
company
  • Mars et Avril Inc.
  • EMAFilms
  • Les Productions du 8e Art
  • Item 7
Distributed byAlliance Vivafilm (Canada)
Gaiam (United States)
Release date
  • 2 July 2012 (2012-07-02) (Karlovy Vary International Film Festival)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryCanada
LanguageFrench
Budget$2.3 million

Shot on a very tight budget of C$2.3 million and with abundant use of green screen, Villeneuve's feature film debut has a significant amount of visual effects. Belgian comic book artist François Schuiten is the production designer, former ILM Senior Compositor Carlos Monzon worked as VFX supervisor, and Benoît Charest composed the original score.[6] The film was financed by Telefilm Canada, SODEC, Les Productions du 8e Art and the Harold Greenberg Fund, and is distributed in Canada by Alliance Vivafilm (now owned by eOne) and in the United States by Gaiam. The official trailer on YouTube was released in Quebec theatres and on Alliance Vivafilm's YouTube channel on December 21, 2011. The world premiere took place on July 2, 2012, at the 47th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Czech Republic (the film was selected in the section "Another View" for its unique artistic approach in both form and content).[7] Since then, the film has been screened in twenty other major cinema events around the globe and has received 10 nominations.[8] Martin Villeneuve was nominated for “Best Adapted Screenplay” at the 2013 Canadian Screen Awards, and he also won an “Imaging the Future Award” at the Neuchâtel International Fantasy Film Festival in Switzerland. In addition, Villeneuve gave a TED Talk about his film at TED2013 in Long Beach, California, thereby becoming the first speaker to come out of Québec.[9]

Synopsis

In Montréal, in the near future, humanity is about to set foot on Mars. Jacob Obus (Jacques Languirand), a charismatic musician, takes pride in slowing down time by playing instruments inspired by women's bodies, designed by his friend, Arthur (Paul Ahmarani). A love triangle develops when Jacob and Arthur both fall in love with Avril (Caroline Dhavernas), a young photographer. Enter Eugène Spaak (Robert Lepage), inventor, cosmologist and Arthur's father, who unveils a new theory about man's desire to reach Mars and helps Jacob find the true meaning of life and love.

Cast

Production

Development

In 2005, Robert Lepage optioned the rights to Martin Villeneuve's Mars et Avril photo novels through his Quebec city-based motion picture company, Films Ex æquo (who had already produced The Far Side of the Moon in 2003), with the intent of adapting them into a science fiction feature film. While Villeneuve was to write the script, Lepage was attached to the project as producer and as an actor.[10] A year later, Lepage shut down Films Ex æquo.[11] Nevertheless, he strongly encouraged Villeneuve to produce and direct the film himself.[12] Villeneuve took over the project, while Lepage remained involved as an actor and creative producer.[5]

In 2008, SODEC, Telefilm Canada, The Harold Greenberg Fund and Alliance Vivafilm decided to finance the production.

Due to the film's significant amount of visual effects, an extensive year of pre-production was necessary. In pre-production, Schuiten made some sketches of the sets and, in post-production, he oversaw the visual coherence of the whole film while acting as art direction consultant.[13] Since the film was to be shot almost entirely on green screen, in only 25 days and on a very tight budget of C$2.3 million, preparation was key to making it work. The 1200 shots were hand-drawn as storyboards and then edited with the dialogues in a detailed, two-hour-long animatic that mapped out every detail before shooting.[14] Villeneuve went to Brussels in May 2008 to work with Schuiten, then Schuiten came to Montreal twice to follow up: in September 2008 and December 2011. Throughout filming and post-production, the two men touch-based as often as they could through Skype.[15] A brainstorming session between Villeneuve and Schuiten is available as the audio commentary on the DVD.[16]

Design

In 2007, Villeneuve contacted famed Belgian comic book artist François Schuiten, who accepted the position of production designer.[17] Schuiten had already worked on such films as Toto le Héros, The Golden Compass and Mr. Nobody.[17] The filmmaker wanted the source of his inspiration to play a direct role in the creation of the film rather than try to mimic his style.[15] For a scene taking place inside the Temple of Cosmologists, Schuiten agreed to have a 3D model made of the futuristic auditorium from Fever in Urbicand, a volume in his Les Cités Obscures series. Villeneuve had this image in mind when writing the photo novel. For the shooting of this scene, extras were chosen who looked like the characters from Schuiten's graphic novel.[18]

Villeneuve could not afford to have the imaginary musical instruments used in the film built, so he went to Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberté and convinced him to buy them before they were even made.[19] When Laliberté saw Villeneuve's TED Talk on June 7, 2013, he offered the filmmaker the "Gravophone" which is seen in the talk.[20] Laliberté has thereby financed the creation of the instruments sculpted by artist Dominique Engel.[9]

Casting

Most of the actors who appeared in the photo novels (most notably Jacques Languirand, Robert Lepage, Paul Ahmarani and Stéphane Demers) reprised their roles in the film, with the exception of Marie-Josée Croze (who portrayed the lead female character in the books), due to a schedule conflict. Caroline Dhavernas, who along with Croze was a roommate of Villeneuve during his college years,[21] was then hired to play the part of Avril.[19] Her mother Michèle Deslauriers, provided the Montreal Teleportation Service's voice in the film (she is also the voice of the real life metro service).[22]

Filming

Principal photography

The film was almost entirely shot on green screen, in 25 days, using the RED digital camera.[23]

Since Robert Lepage only had a few days available for filming, Villeneuve turned his character into a hologram and had another actor wearing a green hood stand in for his scenes during principal photography.[24] An avant-garde 3D capturing technique was used to integrate him virtually into his scenes as a hologram. Six cameras were trained on Lepage's head while a mime, Jean Asselin, portrayed the body.[25] The character became a cosmologist whose research into virtual technologies has extended to bold experiments on himself. His head is actually a hologram, with all of his ideas, memories and thoughts stored electronically. [26][27][28] Additionally, in order to work around Lepage's extremely tight schedule, principal photography took place in Montreal in two segments; the first was in September 2008, and the second in April 2009.[29]

This was radio host Jacques Languirand's first leading role in a feature film. Nearly 80 years old at the time, and being hard of hearing, he wore an ear-piece so that his wife, Nicole Dumais, could feed him his lines off set.[30] When performing on the stage of the Liquid Pub with the band of old musicians played by Marcel Sabourin, André Montmorency and Gabriel Gascon, all cultural icons of Quebec like himself, they received a standing ovation from the 50 extras present during the shooting that lasted several minutes. The first assistant director had to stop the applause so as not fall behind schedule.[20]

The Martian backgrounds were taken by photographer Denis McCready in the Mojave Desert using a panoramic film camera. The exact location is near Trona Pinnacles where several sci-fi movies and TV series were filmed including Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, The Gate II, Lost in Space and Planet of the Apes.[20]

The scene where Jacob and Arthur are leaving for Mars is inspired by one of Villeneuve's childhood memories: when he was 4 or 5 years old, his older brothers (including Denis Villeneuve) put him in a box and made him believe that he made a space travel on his way to Mars.[31][32]

Editing

By the end of 2009, the editing of a first cut was assembled. In 2010, Martin Villeneuve searched for new investments in order to complete the 550 VFX shots involved in the film.[21] In early 2011, Anne-Marie Gélinas and Benoît Beaulieu joined Villeneuve as producers.[33] Telefilm Canada and Alliance Vivafilm both accepted to raise their initial investment, and so did Robert Lepage and Lynda Beaulieu though their new Quebec city-based motion picture company, Les Productions du 8e Art. At this point, Pierre Even and Marie-Claude Poulin from Item 7 also joined the team as executive producers.[34]

Re-shoot

In March 2011, exactly two years after principal photography was completed, a re-shoot took place at Lepage's request. The scene in which Jacob and Avril make love was shot in Languirand's actual bedroom. The final cut of the film was completed during the summer of the same year.[35] Montreal-based post-production company Vision Globale (under the supervision of former ILM Senior Compositor Carlos Monzon) then started the visual effects and sound design.

Music

Benoît Charest was tasked with scoring the music.[36] Charest's score was composed according to Johannes Kepler's cosmological theory, Harmonices Mundi, in which the harmony of the universe is determined by the motion of celestial bodies, referenced in the film's opening voiced by Robert Lepage.[37][38]

The official trailer[39] was released in Quebec theatres and on Alliance Vivafilm's YouTube channel on December 21, 2011.[40] The official poster,[41] designed by François Schuiten, was revealed online on March 11, 2012, once the film was entirely completed.[18]

The first in a series of production videos unveiling the film's creation has been released online on August 16, 2012. A 22-minute "Making of" was aired on ARTV in October 2012 in order to promote the release of the film, and is now available with English subtitles on Vimeo.[42]

TED Talk

On February 27, 2013, Martin Villeneuve gave a TED Talk[9] about Mars et Avril at TED2013,[43][24] thereby becoming the very first French Canadian speaker invited to this prestigious event that took place in Long Beach, California.[44][45] Prior to his talk, the opening sequence of the film was shown,[37] as well as a three minutes overview[46] of the steps leading from the green screen to the final images.[47][48][49] Martin Villeneuve's talk, "How I made an impossible film," was released on TED.com on June 7, 2013, and a month later was added to TED's movie magic list, featuring famed directors such as James Cameron and J.J. Abrams.[50] The talk has been viewed more than a million times across all platforms and subtitled in 30 languages. Since then, Mars et Avril is being referred to as the "Impossible Film".[51][52]

Release

The world premiere took place on July 2, 2012, at the 47th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Czech Republic (the film was selected in the section "Another View" for its unique artistic approach in both form and content).[7] Mars et Avril got its theatrical release in Quebec on October 12, 2012.[53][54]

Festivals

Distribution

Domestic home media, streaming, and soundtrack

The DVD of the film[16] as well as the digital version on iTunes[62] were released in Canada through Alliance Vivafilm on March 19, 2013,[63][64] along with Benoît Charest's original soundtrack and the trailer music composed by Ramachandra Borcar.[65] On October 22, 2013, Benoît Charest won the Félix in the category Album of the year – original soundtrack at the ADISQ Gala. For the occasion, a limited edition of 300 vinyl records of the soundtrack was released by Simone Records, as a nod to the retro-futuristic look of the film.[66]

International distribution

In September 2013, Mars et Avril was sold to the U.S. and is now available on Amazon,[67] on iTunes,[68] on Google Play[69] and on GaiamTV.[70][71] The film is also available on iTunes in the UK, and all across Francophone Europe, among other digital platforms.[72]

Reception

Commercial performance

In February 2016, it was announced that the crew members, for the first time ever in their career, had received a cheque for a film they made with a deferred pay. An art-house indie film that makes its money back is probably a first in Quebec. This is thanks to the work of the American distributor, but mainly to Martin Villeneuve's TED Talk which attracts lots of viewers to see the film online on platforms such as iTunes and Amazon.[73]

Critical response

A trippy science fiction fable about the musicality of the universe that's set in Montreal and on the Red Planet, the sumptuously designed Mars et Avril is certainly one of a kind. (…) Sans rousing battle or action sequences, the film is that rare sci-fi spectacle that foregrounds elements other than Manichean ideas of good and evil — in this case romance, music and philosophizing about the universe. (…) Shot on a tight budget and with abundant use of green screen, the world Villeneuve puts onscreen nonetheless feels whole and, in the sci-fi context, credible.

—Boyd van Hoeij, in his review for Variety[6]

Mars et Avril received generally positive reviews after its release in Quebec.[74][22][75][76] The film also received mostly positive reviews upon its release in the international festival circuit, starting with a world premiere in Karlovy Vary.[71][6][77][78] Brendan Kelly from The Gazette gave it 4.5 stars out of 5 and called it "light-hearted and inspired!" He wrote: "There's a sly wit at work here — that's one of the reasons I so liked Mars et Avril. It doesn't take itself too seriously while tackling some pretty weighty themes, like the nature of inspiration, the relationship between love and sensuality and the notion of how music can set you free. (…) An extraordinary universe that's remarkably inventive and impossible to forget."[22] Mark Adams from Screen Daily was also quite enthusiastic, and described the settings as a "stunning futuristic Montreal, lovingly produced via the special effects, creating an unworldly and dreamy future city that fits perfectly with the graphic novel style." But Adams also noted that "the audience for the film will be relatively niche. This type of esoteric sci-fi — such as Enki Bilal's 2004 film Immortal (Ad Vitam) — works well in France and with fans of comics anthology Metal Hurlant and similar graphic novels, but rarely breaks out into the mainstream."[77]

In his review for Sight & Sound, Anton Bitel was ecstatic: "My favourite film of the festival (and one of the year!) was Martin Villeneuve’s Mars et Avril, an oneiric ‘space opera’ of a kind that, had he had access to CGI, no doubt Jean Cocteau would have made. So much in this film is vibrantly original and odd. How many future-set films exist that are in no way dystopian, that feature not a single moment of violence, and that have a 75-year-old virgin musician as their hero? (…) With its robot bartenders, dream machines, teleportation devices, missions to Mars and sleek steampunk sets, Villeneuve’s astonishing debut has all the furnishings of science fiction, yet in breaking down the barriers between science, art, philosophy and religion it becomes something much more than a mere genre piece. It’s a meta-cosmo-poem with musical accompaniment, photographic imagery and much male longing and loneliness – which makes it a pioneering exploration of the outer limits not just of Canadian filmmaking in particular (which has never before produced something so grandly rich and strange) and cinema in general, but also of the SF and fantasy genres themselves, here made to accommodate the broadest of human concerns.[79]

Online reviews also praised the film. Writing for Twitch Film, Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg claimed that it "deserves greater attention", adding: "Oh, what a wonderful, rich, glorious treat of a film Mars et Avril is. A sci-fi steam-punk romance with a terrific score, it is a delight to the senses. Visually stunning, melodramatic in its storytelling, and unafraid to delve into deep philosophical musings."[55] Esther Inglis-Arkell from sci-fi authority io9 gave it her two thumbs up: "Mars et Avril is a movie that will surprise you. It has to, as every time it seems to go one way, it will twist off in a new direction. It will also give your eyes a good time (…) It looks beautiful and it looks different. This movie took seven years to make and inspired a TED talk about how to make an 'impossible' film. It's also one of the most beautiful, and immersive, science fiction worlds on film."[71] Jay Seaver from efilmcritic.com called it a "thoroughly funky French-Canadian sci-fi!", and wrote: "All of this put together is a small, colorful delight – the funny bits come and go quickly enough to get their chuckles and not wear out their welcome, the whole thing is pretty, and the story that eventually gets told has some heft to it without ever losing sight of the film's goal of being entertaining."[80]

Upon the DVD release, Scott A. Gray from Exclaim! encouraged viewers to bring the film home and wrote: "With his bold, breath-taking big screen debut, Martin Villeneuve has proven himself a vital new voice for intelligent and emotional science fiction. Based on his graphic novels, Mars et Avril is a stunning accomplishment, not just for a first-time filmmaker, but for the genre, and especially for a project with such a modest budget. Its distinct visual grandeur is matched (and surpassed) only by the boundless creativity and thoughtfulness of the story – this is a piece of motion art absolutely brimming with ideas. (…) Mars et Avril is an absolute must-see for viewers more interested in engaging with thought-provoking concepts than passively watching generic linear action unfold."[63]

Accolades

Awards
  • February 11, 2013: Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, United States – Honorable mention for "incredible post-production work".[72]
  • July 9, 2013: Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, Switzerland (international competition) – Imaging the Future Award.
  • October 22, 2013: Benoît Charest won the Félix in the category "Album of the year – original soundtrack" at the ADISQ Gala.[66]
Nominations

References

  1. Mars et Avril leaps off the pages of graphic novels, article from BULB
  2. Mars et Avril: the precarious jump from Graphic Novel to Cinema, article from UCalgaryBlogs.ca, April 8, 2013
  3. Exclusive look at Canadian scifi film MARS ET AVRIL a graphic novel adaptation, article from Quiet Earth, April 4, 2011
  4. Martin Villeneuve – Graphic Novels Interviews (2002-2004) on Vimeo
  5. Denis Villeneuve's brother Martin imagines future Montreal with 'Mars et Avril', article from Canadian Press, October 26, 2011
  6. Mars and April // Mars & Avril, review from Variety, July 16, 2012
  7. Stunning Canadian sci-fi flick MARS ET AVRIL premiering at Karlovy Vary, article from Quiet Earth, June 16, 2012
  8. Mars et Avril Awards & Nominations page on IMDb
  9. "Martin Villeneuve: How I made an impossible film", TED, June 7, 2013
  10. Du papier glacé au grand écran, article from Le Devoir, October 17, 2006
  11. Robert Lepage ferme sa boîte de production Ex aequo, article from Le Devoir, July 8, 2006
  12. Amour et science-fiction, article from Le Journal de Montréal, October 6, 2012
  13. Entrevue exclusive avec Martin Villeneuve, Z-télé, October 11, 2012
  14. Whistler Film Festival 2012 Interview - Mars & Avril director Martin Villeneuve, eFilmCritic.com, December 1, 2012
  15. François Schuiten: The Watchmaker of Dreams, Martin Villeneuve's BULB page, December 2, 2013
  16. Mars et Avril DVD on Amazon Canada, March 19, 2013
  17. Voyage à travers le Montréal de demain, article from La Presse, December 8, 2011
  18. Mars et Avril on Alta-Plana
  19. "Mars et Avril leaps off the page", article from The Gazette, October 5, 2012
  20. Trivia & Fun facts about the film, BULB, December 2, 2013
  21. Martin Villeneuve : l'ambition de la science-fiction, article from Le Nouvelliste, January 21, 2012
  22. An unforgettable ride through a futuristic Montreal, review from The Gazette, October 12, 2012
  23. Martin Villeneuve talks MARS ET AVRIL + English subbed trailer!, article from Quiet Earth, February 16, 2012
  24. A sci-fi film with a $2 million budget: Martin Villeneuve at TED2013, article from the official TED Blog, February 27, 2013
  25. Robert Lepage de retour au cinéma, article from Le Journal de Montréal, October 13, 2012
  26. Cronenberg's son Brandon, Villeneuve's brother Martin debut in 2012, article from Canadian Press, December 30, 2011
  27. Robert Lepage : L'homme-orchestre, article from France-Amérique, October 2012
  28. Robert Lepage projeté dans l'avenir, article from La Presse, October 11, 2012
  29. Jacques Languirand dans l'espace, article from La Presse, April 29, 2011
  30. The 'Mars & Avril' Experience (22-minute Making Of) on Vimeo, 2013
  31. Mars et Avril – Interviews (2011-2013) on Vimeo
  32. Mission accomplie Interview with Martin Villeneuve on Bouillant de culture, February 4, 2012
  33. On me disait que c'était impossible, article from Qui fait Quoi, January 31, 2012
  34. Mars et Avril sortira en 2012, article from Le Journal de Montréal, April 29, 2011
  35. Mars et Avril selon Caroline Dhavernas, article from Cineplex Magazine, October 2012
  36. Le pari fou de Martin Villeneuve, article from Le Journal de Montréal, February 9, 2012
  37. Mars et Avril – Opening Sequence, on Vimeo
  38. Science-fiction romantique, article from La Presse, October 6, 2012
  39. Mars et Avril – Trailer in HD on Vimeo
  40. Breathtaking trailer for a movie about the only man who doesn't want to go live on Mars, article from io9, December 22, 2011
  41. Mars et Avril - Theatrical Movie Poster on IMP Awards
  42. Dazzling Other-Worldly New Sci-Fi Fantasy Film, Mars et Avril, The Impossible Movie Debuts Exclusively On Gaiam TV, article from emag.co.uk, January 8, 2014
  43. 10 jaw-dropping images from the film "Mars et Avril," and how the magic was created, article from the official TED Blog, June 7, 2013
  44. Quebec's first TED Talk, article from Cult Montreal, June 7, 2013
  45. CBC C'est La Vie "Quebec filmmaker gives a TED Talk"
  46. Mars et Avril – Creating the Visual Effects (TED2013) on Vimeo
  47. Four TED talks every filmmaker should watch, article from IndieWire, September 23, 2013
  48. 3 Things You Need to Make an Impossible Movie, article from Film School Rejects, July 1, 2013
  49. Making an Impossible Film: How Director Martin Villeneuve Brought His Sci-Fi Drama to Life, article from No Film School, June 14, 2013
  50. 10 talks about the making of movie magic
  51. Making the Impossible Film. Martin Villeneuve on MARS ET AVRIL, article from Quiet Earth, June 10, 2013
  52. Martin Villeneuve makes the impossible happen, Guestlist, March 6, 2017
  53. MARS ET AVRIL - En salles dès le 12 octobre prochain !, news release from Alliance Vivafilm, August 23, 2012
  54. Cinéma québécois - Floraison automnale, article from Le Devoir, August 25, 2012
  55. Sci-Fi London 2013 Review: MARS ET AVRIL Deserves Greater Attention, Screen Anarchy, May 8, 2013
  56. BIFFF 2013 – Mars & Avril : un souffle frais d'outre-Atlantique, Discordance, April 7, 2013
  57. BIFFF 2013 – Critique de Mars & Avril, Sens critique, April 4, 2013
  58. From WFF to TED Talks: Martin Villeneuve and his Impossible Film, ALUMNI NEWS September 28, 2016
  59. Mars et Avril page on the MVFF's official site
  60. Mars et Avril review on the CSIFF's official site
  61. Mars et Avril Release Info page on IMDb
  62. Mars et Avril in HD on iTunes Canada, March 19, 2013
  63. Mars et Avril, Directed by Martin Villeneuve, DVD review from Exclaim.ca, March 21, 2013
  64. MARS ET AVRIL - DVD, DVD review from PressPlus1.com, March 19, 2013
  65. Mars et Avril (Bande Annonce / Original Trailer Music), March 19, 2013
  66. Benoît Charest: How music can set you free, BULB, December 2, 2013
  67. Mars et Avril in HD on Amazon, December 2013
  68. Mars & Avril in HD on iTunes, December 2013
  69. Mars & Avril in HD on Google Play, December 2013
  70. Mars et Avril on GaiamTV, September 13, 2013
  71. Spend the weekend watching the impossible (and beautiful) Mars & Avril, review from io9, December 6, 2013
  72. A futuristic tale of fantasy and desire, BULB, December 2, 2013
  73. Martin Villeneuve: The Dreammaker, The Cozy Sweater Café, August 23, 2016
  74. Amours futuristes et émois métaphysiques, review from Le Devoir, October 13, 2012
  75. Mars et Avril : romance cosmique dans un Montréal futuriste où téléportation et disques vinyles co-existent, review from Night Life, October 11, 2012
  76. Une réussite visuelle, review from Le Journal de Montréal, October 10, 2012
  77. Mars and April, review from Screen Daily, July 13, 2012
  78. Bel accueil pour Mars et Avril, article from Le Journal de Montréal, July 3, 2012
  79. Out there down here: Sci-Fi-London 2013, review from Sight & Sound, May 27, 2013
  80. Mars et Avril, review from eFilmCritic.com, February 11, 2013
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