Magical Adventures in the Forbidden City review – steampunk fantasy hints at allegory | Film

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Something of a curate’s Fabergé egg, this peculiar Russian-made steampunk-lite fantasy feature has some interesting story ideas, entrancing visual effects and lovely sets (a lot of it was filmed in Tallinn’s gorgeous city centre in Estonia, as well as in St Petersburg). But many of the lead performances are painfully inert, exuding less verisimilitude than the story’s computer-generated fairies. Just to guide it deeper into the valley of the uncanny, nearly everyone in the film speaks English but with obviously dubbed voices, so while the phonemes roughly match the mouth movements, it’s a fair bet that different actors (often with American accents) recorded the dialogue in soundproof booths during post-production. That said, this last weirdness creates a kind of verfremdungseffekt, or sense of alienation, which dilutes any remaining realism and thus may be intentional.

Watch the trailer for Magical Adventures in the Forbidden City

We can be pretty sure that director Aleksandr Boguslavskiy and his collaborators fully intended to create a magical world that looks all at once medieval, belle époque and 1930s-ish. There, the residents of a town called Fensington live inside a high wall designed to keep them safe from supposedly sinister strangers, a bit like a Maga-hat fantasy version of Yuma, Arizona, but smaller and with more snow. Nearly a hundred years after the wall was built, a father (Eddie Marsan) gives his young daughter a necklace that turns out to have strange powers before he is taken away by officers wearing creepy bronze masks who claim that he is “infected” with some enigmatic disease. The girl, Abigail, grows up to be willowy, wooden-as-a-countertop ex-model Tinatin Dalakishvili, who then falls in with a group of resistance fighters.

With masked soldiers snatching civilians in Belarus and the continuing conflict in Ukraine, it’s temping to spy some kind of anti-fascism allegory in this story, but that may be taking things too far. Sometimes a zeppelin is just a zeppelin.

Source: The Guardian
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