There should be more small-scale, big-minded films such as the independent sci-fi feature Realive. Mateo Gil, the writer of the excellent, intellectually curious Spanish films Open Your Eyes and The Sea Inside, has expanded his duties to directing and the resulting experience is cerebrally and visually satisfying. While being slick and smart is in the expected strike zone for a science fiction film, what sets this film apart is the strong love story at its center.

Marc (Tom Hughes) is an otherwise healthy young man who is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Obstinate, he turns to experimental science and has his body frozen in hopes of resurrection when technology catches up. Nearly a century later, Marc awakens in the year 2084 under the care of the awkwardly reverent Dr. West (Barry Ward) and his team, which includes the particularly attentive Elizabeth (Charlotte Le Bon). Marc’s resurrection is the first major success of Project Lazarus, an expensive initiative intended as a possible step towards immortality, and as such Marc is paraded in front of investors while suffering through the occasional malfunctions that any first generation technology encounters.

The film is best when it allows itself to consider such big questions as the relationship between a person’s body and soul. Marc’s body broke down while cryogenically frozen, and his 2084 form is partially mechanical. This change is reflected with a mixture of subtle CGI and make-up that leaves Marc, quite attractive in flashback, looking like a prettier version of Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort.

However, the film can be too on the nose, such as the well-worn title of Project Lazarus. Gil’s vision of 2084 isn’t particularly unique, with most of the action happening in one of those steel and glass facilities that looks like the inside of a giant iPhone. And though Realive is provocative, its plot device had its heyday in the ‘90s, with Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone and Sigourney Weaver adjusting badly to the future in such mediocre films as Forever Young, Demolition Man and Alien: Resurrection.

Yet the film’s philosophical questions tie back to its vivid central love story, told almost entirely in flashback. The romance between Marc and Naomi (Oona Chaplin) took place before Marc’s death, its bond solidified by his diagnosis. Although Gil’s script relies too much on narration, the montages covering the peaks and valleys of Marc and Naomi’s relationship effectively show Marc to be vital and alive even as he nears death. Contrast this with the 2084 Marc, who looks ghostly even though he’s just been reborn.

The leads sell the love story with their palpable chemistry. Chaplin (the ill-fated Talisa in “Game of Thrones”) gives such a full-bodied performance as the mercurial Naomi that you feel her absence in 2084, conveying the loss Marc feels. Gil structures makes the viewer aware of the most relevant aspects of Marc and Naomi’s story as Marc’s life takes shape in the future.

Though its vision of what to come is bland, Realiveimbues the present and future with insight and surprisingly heartfelt romance, pulling off large ambitions with more success than films with 10 times its budget.

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