In a dystopian future, an asexual and immortal nation called bio-titan plans to abandon its pollution-ravaged planet. His plan is jeopardized by a calligrapher who embarks on an unlikely odyssey.

Theodore Ushev’s reputation is well established. His magnificent animated shorts such as Vaysha, the blind man and Physics of sadness have won over film lovers around the world with their poetic and personal evocation.

Shot in Bulgaria and scripted by Vladislav Todorov who adapted his own novel, Phi 1.618 (the golden number, which refers here to the divine quest for perfection of the bio-titans) offers a real break in his filmography. Not only is this his first feature film, and in live action moreover, but the result also contrasts with his previous opuses, although the themes addressed are similar (the yoke of totalitarianism) and that we find some great animated segments.

It is rather a playful creation where the director wanted to have fun by inviting the spirit of all that inspires him. The story, which could easily have been silent, starts like an old propaganda film before embracing more philosophical and lyrical propensities. Then suddenly, he flirts with surrealism, expressionism, gory B-movie and kitsch romance before redefining himself again. We think of the Jeunet/Caro duo or, closer to home, Olivier Asselin.

Incessant breaks in tone that are not always well suited to the whole. The different segments – like the one danced to an unstoppable melody by Marie Davidson – constantly surprise and delight us. Except that the project sometimes looks more like a succession of disparate short films. This is felt on the dialogues which lack finish and on the artificial acting of the actors.

This narrative weakness is offset by an aesthetic vision that does a lot on a limited budget. The filmmaker’s staging does not lack ambition, swapping the closed places of the introduction to reveal an incredible universe of science fiction, where the neat architecture evokes brutalism.

Fascinating and frustrating at the same time, Phi 1.618 will leave no one indifferent with its punk side. If the essay flirts with an exercise in style, it feels good to attend a cinema that always dares more.