Furia (1999)

A political parable ably masquerading as a sci-fi romance, “Furia” is a burnished and moody tale of artistic resistance to a repressive regime set in a timeless yet familiar realm. A dreamy lead perf from Stanislas Merhar (the dashing young troublemaker in “Dry Cleaning”) won’t hurt pic’s local commercial chances, but its major marketing hook may well be the fact that helmer Alexandre Aja, 20, appears to have talent to burn.

The harrowing and broadly romantic tale was adapted from a three-page short story, “Graffiti,” that Julio Cortazar penned in exile in Paris at the height of the era during which 30,000 people “disappeared” in Argentina. Pre-title exposition informs us that “after a 13-year struggle the rebellion has been quelled.” Pic is set in a shimmering desert town characterized by melancholy and tensile resignation. This is a society in which drawing on walls is an act of civil disobedience punishable by arrest, torture and death.

Theo (Merhar), an artist, risks his life by painting and drawing on public surfaces. His father, Aaron (Pierre Vaneck), who runs the local cheesy bar, used to be a painter but was arrested: The color was drained from his eyes and now he sees in black-and-white. Theo’s rather officious brother, Laurence (Wadek Stanczak), is a magistrate occupied by secretive work in the city.

Theo, who believes the static on his radio is actually scrambled messages from the Resistance, paints by night. His illustrations are whitewashed away by the authorities, but he eludes capture — until he deliberately has himself arrested in hopes of rejoining Elia (Marion Cotillard), the young artist he’s fallen for. Carted off with a burlap bag over her head, Elia is subjected to atrocious tortures, which helmer conveys with terrifying economy.

Pic, shot in Morocco, has a disquieting, otherworldly look, with Aja sustaining a serious, eerie tone full of emotional and physical menace. The heat is also a good excuse for lots of shots of Merhar’s bare chest. Though it’s set in the future, in design terms the movie is permeated by a colonial nostalgia that’s discomforting for those who know the history of French intervention in North Africa. But young auds, likely to be won over by the message of love-fueled sacrifice and freedom-fighting, will gloss over such objections to embrace the notion that artistic expression is good and repressive authority is bad.

Potent, percussive score, augmented by a plaintive female vocal, grows far too heavy-handed in final reel, but overall sound design is good.

Marion Cotillard nude.