Why do we find ourselves yielding to the sway of an authoritative regime? Is it a testament to our fragility, or perhaps a divergence from the principles championed by the liberal ethos? Yet, can we guarantee that in ushering in a society governed by liberal ideals, we won’t inadvertently birth a new autocracy? Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust (2024) is an animated film, based on Ishan Shukla’s short film of the same name made in 2016, fearlessly navigates such uncharted territory, compelling us to reassess our perceptions of an all-encompassing society. This cinematic venture invites us to question the fabric of our beliefs, urging a contemplative exploration of the intricate dynamics that shape the landscapes of inclusivity. The enigma between totalitarian governance and freedom beckons us to ponder our allegiance and the ever-shifting nature of power. The narrative unfolds within the suffocating confines of a totalitarian state, where the essence of individuality is systematically suppressed through the iron grip of enforced conformity. The film unravels a dystopian vortex, echoing the eerie resonance of Orwell’s cautionary tales, inviting viewers to reflect on the haunting consequences of a society that crushes the very essence of personal identity in the relentless pursuit of uniformity. Its ambitious visual style subtly conveys the dual essence of apocalyptic and caution, unravelling the layers of meaning embedded in the intricate details of the milieu it creates. The story delves into the eccentricities of our clumsily structured rigid society and the longing to break free from it using any available means.
In the metropolis of Schirkoa, a bastion of modernity, citizens don paper bags bearing numbers instead of names on their foreheads. Adherence to stringent rules is the norm; deviation is not an option. The protagonist 197A (voiced by Shahbaz Sarwar), is a mid-level official who is a new council member in the city’s bureaucracy. He is thrust into a role as the government representative for the ruling Intellectuals in the enigmatic finale, facing off against an opposition candidate. His lover, 242B (voiced by Golshifteh Farahani), occupies a different realm in the Blue District as a prostitute. She harbors plans to escape the oppressive milieu, aiming for the elusive forbidden refugee state of Konthaqa. Legend has it that Konthaqa is the haven for the Anomaly—individuals’ deformity, relentlessly pursued by the city’s extermination efforts. In a twist of fate, 197A’s serendipitous encounter with rebellious 33F (SoKo) leads to an unexpected journey, casting shadows on his convictions. Pulled by the magnetic force of her charm into an unforeseen situation, 197A’s subsequent choices serve as a litmus test for his resolve. The collision of their worlds becomes a chaotic symphony, challenging the protagonist to confront his essence and redefining his convictions in a tumultuous odyssey.
The film’s brilliance lies in its intricate details, offering a glimpse into a strangely familiar and subtly distorted society. In this world, the government instills fear of supposed threats from immigrants at the border, but it remains uncertain whether this fear is genuine or a tool to maintain control. In the shadowy corridors of Schirkoa, the Anomaly group is cast aside by the authorities and relegated to the status of marginalized figures. The society of Schirkoa is steeped in paranoia and control as citizens navigate through orchestrated constraints. Paper bags with numbers, not names, adorn their foreheads, echoing the motto “To be alike is the way of life” and “Safety, sanity, and sanctity” blaring from loudspeakers. Yet, these numbers reveal the citizens’ social status.
In the mesmerizing expanse of Konthaqa, a realm where freedom pirouettes through the air and landscapes are adorned with vibrant hues, the essence of existence itself transforms into a kaleidoscopic celebration. Here, reality and fantasy engage in a poetic dance, their boundaries melting away to create a dreamscape that captivates the soul. The air is charged with an intoxicating energy, a symphony of emotions that eludes precise description. It’s a place where whispers of enchantment linger in every breeze, and the very fabric of existence seems woven from threads of unrestrained joy. During 197A’s bus journey to the forbidden land, he encounters the mystical presence of an astrologer (Piyush Mishra) who prophesies in the melodic cadence of poetic Hindi. It adds a romantic flourish but also infuses the longing for a brighter tomorrow with an enchanting lure. Thus, Konthaqa stands in stark contrast to Schirkoa — a land that offers boundless options for freedom with a stifled region dominated by oppressive powers juxtaposed. Harnessing the allure of captivating 2D and 3D animation, seamlessly integrated with the precision of motion capture technology, Schirkoa evolves into a visual delight. Every frame becomes a cinematic canvas, skillfully painted with the brushstrokes of animation. Without descending into polemics, the film stands as a riveting visual commentary, skillfully weaving a narrative that delves into the intricate complexities of life ensnared within the unyielding clutches of an authoritarian regime.
Nicolas Titeux‘s sound design and editing create a surreal calmness in the film, occasionally infusing it with a mind-bending atmosphere, effectively balancing the chaos. Sneha Khanwalkar‘s background score serves as the sonic architect that breathes life into the dystopic landscape and enhances the film’s complexity. It offers a sensory experience that resonates with the haunting beauty amidst the unsettling backdrop. The film’s stellar voice cast spans from the debutant Shahbaz Sarwar to seasoned talents like Golshifteh Farahani and Asia Argento. Additionally, notable guest appearances by the likes of Lav Diaz, Gaspar Noe, Shekhar Kapur, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Piyush Mishra, Denzil Smith, and SoKo contribute to the narrative’s depth. Each voice, distinct and resonant, enriches the story with its unique clarity, forming a harmonious ensemble that breathes life into the characters.
The thematic treatment of Schirkoa invites inevitable comparisons with cult classics like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985). However, Shukla doesn’t merely emulate; he crafts a world uniquely his own, establishing the film as more than a derivative work. This debut venture marks the emergence of a filmmaker who forges a distinct path in animated storytelling.
Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust (India, France, Germany), recently had its World Premiere in the Bright Future section and won the NETPAC Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam 2024.