Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci: April and the Extraordinary World/April et le monde truqué 2016

It's a French animated film based on a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, creator of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (filmed in live-action by Luc Besson in 2010). It's in an old-fashioned, linear style, drab and luminous by turns, and it won the grand prize at Annecy, the supreme Cannes/Toronto/Sundance of animated films. April takes us to an elaborate alternate universe with possible profound scientific and ecological implications. In this world, in 1941, when the main action begins, everything is slow and gray; people choke from the air pollution. This is because for 70 years scientists and inventors have mysteriously disappeared. Consequently none of the conveniences and advances that make the modern world have been invented. There's no electricity, internal combustion engines, or gasoline, no TV or radio, no aviation -- only things powered by steam and coal. Forests have been striped. The air is unbreathable. Governments are similarly retarded; in France, Napoleon V reigns. We will focus on the fate of a sick cat named Darwin (voiced by Philippe Katerine) and her concerned owner, a young girl, April (Marion Cotillard). Failed researches for a magical serum to create an indestructible foot soldier have led to animals acquiring the power to speak, including Darwin. April is joined by Julius (Marc-André Grondin), a young rascal of the streets. (Other fine actors do the voices including the great Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet and Bouli Lanners.)

You will have to stay tuned for quite a while to know about who's been kidnapping the scientists, and with what sinister aim, because Tardi's story is episodic. April's parents and grandparents have been working on a serum that will revive the dead -- so naturally they're taken away by police, though Grandpa (Rochefort) escapes, April is left to cope on her own, and she tries to continue the search for a serum, with the added motivation of trying to revive the failing Darwin. She's not successful, but by accident she does revive Darwin, and he turns into a super-cat. By now she has encountered and teamed up with Julius, and they set out to discover what has become of her parents and grandfather and the other scientists and inventors. When they do fine out, we shift from the world of historical fantasy to one of pure fantasy and science fiction. A battle for magical serum takes place, with the survival of the universe at stake.

The story has something to do with ecology and planetary -- and here interplanetary -- survival. But to be honest, I found Tardi's quirky meandering adventures a bit tiresome, and the steam-powered, coal-smoke-clogged, deforested world of the film dreary at best. Things are of course brightened by the charm of the characters and the excellent voice actors, particularly Darwin, the audience-pleaser and most memorable character of the group. An immense amount of energy, creativity, and technical invention have gone into Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinc's film. The mostly hand-drawn animation is another pleasant retro relief from the glossy plasticity of Pixar. But all this is in the service of material that serves better in a comic book, even though at least it's not Marvel but something unmistakably French.

"Extraordinary" is a loose stand-in for the word "truqué," in the French title, whose nuances Peter Debruge discusses in his Variety review. Such alternatives as "twisted" and "rigged" have been suggested.

April and the Extraordinary World/Avril et le monde truqué, 105 mins., debuted at Annecy 15 June 2015, and was included in 13-15 other festivals. US theatrical release (NYC) begins 25 March 2016; wider release 8 April. (US reviews have been raves, Metacritic rating 85%.)

Coming: Luc Besson live-action epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne, based on Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin’s French comic series “Valerian and Laureline” and is set in a 28th century where time travel is commonplace.

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