Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust Won’t Be a Hit. It’s Too Unique For That.

Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust

Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust (Ishan Shukla, 2024) is a very strange movie. 

The animation is strange, developed from a video game engine to give off an uncanny feel; the characters are strange, cryptically talking around the subjects at hand; and the design is strange, freely evoking everything from Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott) to 1984 to Brazil (Terry Gillian, 1985) to this heavily-shared short movie about using your phone too much. And its conclusions are even stranger, not so much raging against the machine but slowly succumbing to it, asking if freedom is truly better than the authoritarian alternative. I very much enjoyed its hallucinogenic and despairing aesthetic. 

This Indo-French co-production, developed from Shukla’s own 2016 short, is shot entirely in Epic’s Unreal Engine, best known for being the driving force behind games as diverse as Fortnite, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Final Fantasy VII. 

Looking like a cut scene come to life, this engine usage makes perfect sense, as all the characters in the eponymous land of Schirkoa appear to be NPCs. Standing for non-playable character, NPC (usually a right-wing slur) also describes a person without any independent thought. 

The people of Schirkoa — a heady mixture of the seedier parts of Amsterdam, the hustle and bustle of East Asian cities, and a grey, gloomy exaggeration of New York City (slash its fictional counterpart, Gotham City) — fit this description well. They wear paper bags over their head; not by choice, but by diktat. “Safety, sanity, sanctity,” goes the official motto of the fascist city, bringing to mind the not-too-distant mask-wearing era, with those coming into the pandemic-esque city described as anomalies. But are they anomalies or are they actually free? 

Living in the prostitute-heavy Blue District is 197A (Shahbaz Sarwar), a company man and aspiring politician looking to grind his way up the system. His girlfriend, 242B (a cannily cast Goldshifteh Farahani given she was exiled from Iran after refusing to wear a hijab) is far more romantic, looking to move beyond the outskirts to find a bag-free community. 197A is certainly unsure about all this but has his persuasions changed by attending a meeting of government-appointed Intellectuals (literally talking Simlish-esque nonsense) and a gorgeously-rendered rooftop encounter with a bag-less, carefree immigrant.  

Embarking on an odyssey of sex and gender transformation, rebellion and war, spanning three distinct societies (one ruled by an imperious, hilarious Asia Argento) and featuring cameos from diametrically opposed directors Lav Diaz and Gaspar Noé, Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust is probably too strange to be a knock-out hit — especially compared to the over-worked, over-busy style of today’s modern animation. But it has a fine chance of being a future cult classic. Consensus is for the NPCs. 

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Redmond is the editor-in-chief of Journey Into Cinema.