An Idea? A Place? Just What Exactly Is Urville?


“Urville,” explained at the beginning of a fanciful documentary that explains little else about itself, is a rumored Mediterranean city-state supposedly visible from the Côte d’Azur shore—a mirage to some, a ferry ride away say others. Artist Gilles Trehin drew every detail of his Urville in a 2004 book; director Angela Christlieb’s is shown as a pedestrian-free futurescape, vague and aglow in perpetual night, described in voiceover as a harmonious paradise where all religions have been merged and the last prison shut down. These images are briefly intersticed between first-person visits to three real Urvilles on the French map, actual rural villages in the Vosges plain, Calvados, and Aube. The idea is a utopian film where Utopia is the existing world, as various Urville residents are seen attempting to perfect their personal space. Champagne magnates and a charcuterie proprietor displaying his awards for tripe preparation represent the ideal of the tradesman; an outskirt-dwelling family of pseudo-gypsies and a self-made real estate man who dresses in Sioux buckskin and lives in a teepee with his squaw-wife conduct family-size social experiments in living free. Light sometimes to the point of fluffy, equally weighing platitude and wisdom, and over-reliant on awkward compositions that emphasize its subjects’ quaint curiousness, Urville still makes a more interesting island vacation than Aldous Huxley’s.