Search form

Director Jérémie Périn Talks ‘Mars Express’

The ‘Lastman’ helmer discusses his animated neo-noir sci-fi thriller, set in 2200, when a young cybernetics student disappears among the wealthy who’ve abandoned Earth for Mars, where they are served by sentient, obedient robots; from GKIDS, the film hits U.S. theaters May 3.

After the success of Lastman, an adult animation series prequel to the comic strip of the same name written by Bastien Vivès and Balak (pen name of Yves Bigerel), director Jérémie Périn became not only more recognized for his animated storytelling skills in France, but also for his sci-fi chops. During its first broadcast on France 4, the series attracted over 200,000 viewers on average per evening. When it was broadcast on Netflix France, it received more than 700,000 views.

Since Lastman first broadcasted in 2016, two seasons with 32 episodes have been produced; it’s also led to Périn’s his first feature film break: Mars Express.

Mars Express, an official selection at last year’s Cannes and Annecy film festivals, is a 2023 French animated neo-noir science fiction film now being theatrically distributed by GKIDS nationwide in the U.S. on Friday, May 3. 

Produced by Everybody On Deck in co-production with Je Suis Bien Content, Ev.l Prod, Plume Finance, France 3 Cinéma, Shine Conseils, Gebeka Films and Amopix, the film takes place in the year 2200, where the upper echelons of society abandoned Earth to make Mars the vibrant center of civilization. They are served by sentient, obedient robots that are nearly indistinguishable from the humans they have replaced. Amidst a growing scandal of hackers jailbreaking androids, a young cybernetics student disappears. Capable but troubled private detective Aline and her android partner Carlos take the case to track her down. As they descend into a world of brain farms and criminal conspiracies, they unravel a deeper threat that may alter the fate of mankind–and their robot counterparts.

Watch the trailer:

Written and directed by Périn, the film is also written by Laurent Sarfati with Didier Creste serving as producer. Marc Jousset is executive producer of animation with Mikael Robert serving as artistic director. Nils Robin, Hanne Galvez, and Nicolas Capitaine are heads of animation. 

While this isn’t Périn’s first rodeo in the sci-fi genre, it’s the first time he’s gotten to make something that harkens back to the films he fell in love with in the first place. Drawing from Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Robocop, Périn wants to resurrect some of the features from classic sci-fi films, with his own spin of course, and steer away from what he calls the “more pop and eccentric” tales being told in Hollywood today. 

Also known for his producing and directing work on series such as CO2, Nini Patalo, and Socks, Périn chatted with AWN about his debut feature and the challenges and rushes that come from trying to create a groundbreaking piece of animation and packing it into an hour and a half… or less. 

Victoria Davis: How long had you been working on the concept of Mars Express before being able to put the project in motion?

Jérémie Périn: For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to make at least one science fiction film before I die. I've tried to put together a number of projects along these lines, but they've all been abandoned or turned down. In such cases, I tend to mourn the loss and move on to something else. When the opportunity came to make a film after the success of Lastman Season 1, on which I was director, I naturally suggested to producer Didier Creste that we make a science fiction film.

Laurent Sarfati (the film's co-writer) and I started from scratch. The idea for Mars Express, the writing of the script and its production all followed one another without a break, and, in all, it took five and a half years of my life.

VD: You’ve said that Mars Express is meant to harken back to classics of sci-fi, like Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey or Robocop. How do you think Hollywood has veered away from telling these kinds of stories? What’s changed? And what did you want to infuse back into this genre with Mars Express?

JP: What we realized when we set out to write Mars Express was that science fiction films were more concerned with the marvelous, with fantasy and magic instead of science. This is neither a good nor a bad thing. I think it's a question of the mood of the moment, a tendency. But for us, it's something that was missing that we wanted to revisit, and that I wanted to confront – a forward-looking, tangible, and pragmatic sci-fi based on our current scientific and technological knowledge.

VD: This is your first feature and a sci-fi project at that. It’s quite the feat! Science fiction stories are notoriously complex, and creatives rarely are given the time to fully flesh out the stories to their full extent. Was this intimidating at all on top of it being your first feature?

JP: To be perfectly honest, I went into it half candidly, with my head held high, half as an adventurer who claims to know how to solve every problem. I certainly underestimated the level of difficulty and the mountain of work involved in this kind of story. When I say that, I'm thinking not only of the difficulty of the writing, which has to integrate futuristic concepts in a fluid and natural way for the audience, but I'm also thinking of the staging and the tons of design work that goes into such world-building. This is especially true if you don't have the budget of a Hollywood movie. 

Nevertheless, I believe that every film project requires a certain amount of risk-taking and recklessness when you set out to make it.

VD: What would you say were the biggest challenges when it came to the film’s production?

JP: In terms of narrative, I'd say that the biggest challenge was to be comprehensible, despite the huge amount of information we had to convey in a film lasting one hour and twenty-five minutes. On a more technical level, the logistics were very complex. Five studios across France worked together on the images. On top of that, we used 2D and 3D animation techniques that had to blend perfectly. Each studio had its own specialty, with specific production pipelines. We had to pull out a lot of hair to keep the production chain running smoothly.

VD: You’ve shared that animation was an obvious choice as far as telling this story. And that “refined realism” was the goal. Can you explain what you mean? Were there animated inspirations you were drawing from to get the right look?

JP: I'm at an age where I'm no longer concentrating on finding my own graphic aesthetic. But I find that realism suits the style of film I'm trying to make. It's a kind of "neutral" aesthetic that can embrace all tonal breaks and never betrays the mood of the film in advance. What's more, for a film where one of the subjects is the blurred boundary between the natural and the artificial, I believe that animation, which aims for an impression of reality, is an ideal means of expression. When viewers tell me that after a while, they forget they're watching a cartoon, I think we've succeeded.

VD: Speaking of cartoons, what are some specific examples of ways you used animation to achieve that blurred line between robots and humans?

JP: The original idea was to animate humans in 2D and robots in 3D so that the humans would be rendered by humans and the robots by computers to feel a difference of nature between the characters. But when we said that we didn't say everything. This choice is made according to the point of view of the characters concerned. A robot convinced he's a human will therefore be drawn by hand. This choice was important to visualize the psychological journey of Carlos as he questions his own nature. The choice of cell shading for 3D also seemed to me a simple means of integration, but also a way of saying that humans make robots in their own image.

We wanted 3D to imitate 2D. I naturally have a more clinical drawing style, so the challenge was to give the film's robots a sense of empathy and emotion.

VD: What parts of the animation are you most proud of and can’t wait for people to see?

JP: I'm very pleased with some of the subtle acting and posing, as well as the facial expressions that aren't so often seen in animation. We tried, as much as possible, to get away from the prefabricated acting so often found in American or Japanese cartoons. We tried to find our own syntax, and I think we succeeded.

VD: Has this feature given you ideas for more animated sci-fi films in the future?

JP: Yes, but as is often the case, my desires tend to take me in opposite directions. I think that if I were to make a new science-fiction film in the future, I'd do something much more baroque and fanciful. Why not a space opera musical, for example?

VD: I think a lot of people are going to hold you to that idea. For my last question, what do you hope viewers take away from watching Mars Express?

JP: My hope is that viewers will come out of the film and confront their vision of the ending with one another. Chances are they won't agree. I hope they'll then ask themselves why they interpreted it the way they did, rather than the way some of their friends did. It may not appeal to everyone, but it's an effort that was close to my heart, and luckily, I think it works.

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at