In the land of Gandahar, there has been peace for many decades, but now it looks as though all that is about to end. Encroaching on the dominion of Jasper, which is effectively the seat of government, are a race of metal men and they are turning the mild and harmonious people to stone for their own mysterious purposes. Ambisextra (voiced by Anny Duperey), the leader of Gandahar, calls on a champion to set out on a mission to get to the root of the problem, but she gets the inexperienced Sylvain (Pierre-Marie Escourrou) - will he prove his mettle?
Gandahar was the final feature film directed by animator René Laloux, and for many it did not live up to his most famous work, the seventies effort Fantastic Planet which had become such a hit with counterculture audiences. In fact, this was a rather more conventional good versus evil tale with the citizens of Jasper putting their faith in Sylvain when their usual lines of defence and surveillance fall by the wayside. Based on a story by Jean-Pierre Andrevon, it had that peculiarly Gallic flavour particular to their science fiction, so Star Wars this was not.
There's actually a more surreal quality to the film that carries it through a plotline that doesn't entirely make sense for some of the time. Mainly this is down to the character design - and the fact that most of the female characters are topless throughout prompts one to wonder if this was intended for adults, or if the French aren't as bothered about this sort of thing as other countries are; it's not sexually expliict, anyway (although lovemaking is implied in one scene). Sylvain is a pretty conventional hero for the most part, but the bizarre design of those around him is worth seeing.
This hero ends up being taken down on his flying creature by two monstrous birds and crashlanding, where he is found by a band of mutants. This is the first sign that Gandahar is not the paradise we might have regarded it as, because the mutants are forced to live underground having been banished from polite society, but they don't seem to bear a grudge against Sylvain personally, he wasn't to know after all. One of the mutants guides him to an area of metal man activity, and wouldn't you know it he ends up getting zapped and turned to stone.
Looks like this will be a short film, then, but there is more to it than that, as we find out. From a gun that shoots seeds which in turn sprout thorns to destroy their target to a giant superbrain that appears to be controlling the metal men without quite grasping the significance of what it is carrying out, Gandahar is not short of inspiration, but the time travel that emerges in the final third only proves to be an unnecessary development, especially as Sylvain needlessly agrees to be placed in suspended animation so he can wait to tackle the superbrain a thousand years in the future when it will be more evil, but on the other hand this adds to the bizarre elements that make up the bulk of the film. It does have a happy ending of sorts, but the whole bad times just around the corner aspect speaks of pessimism; intriguing, though. Music by Gabriel Yared.