Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 26, 2022 8:43 pm 
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FLORENCE MIALHE: THE CROSSING/LA TRAVERSÉE (2021) - SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

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BROTHER AND SISTER ADRIEL AND KYONA IN THE CROSSING

Hand-painted animation of a wartime flight delights with its visuals even when the story doesn't

This fictional animated film features surreal and fairytale-like imagery that evokes brush drawings and paintings, thanks to the distinctive technique of filming oil paintings on glass. Comparisons have been made with Loving Vincent, but that is an animation of Van Gogh paintings, and this is the work of one person, though the style, a mixture, is reminiscent of several modern artists, even Dufy and Picasso, perhaps Chagall, perhaps Matisse, perhaps Van Gogh. It's hard to pin down, but feels classic, and often delights with its fluid line and radiant color.

What most satisfies here is not the storytelling. The language is standard, simple French, and that's pleasant. But the action of the siblings fleeing a pogrom through many vicissitudes to cross into another land ultimately disappoints, and it's hard to say exactly why. The story, cowritten with Arnaud Desplechin's sister Marie, is referring to Mialhe's mother and grandmother, but inventing names, people, and places that are not a direct reference to any place or people we have ever known. Some of the events resemble Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird, or Vaclav Václav Marhoul's 2019 film version of it, and we know a lot of that was invented, but it was more detailed and specific. Here Mailhe never quite finds the sweet spot between the mythical and the historical that she is seeking. But it doesn't matter too much, because the visuals are rare and beautiful.

What appeals are the hand drawn animations, though they're not uniformly great. Linear closeups of the two siblings, which are that, very linear, are very pleasing. So are scenes that are more complex, when she turns to a bright palette; the dark scenes tend to be muddy. Above all we share her delight in the look of brush strokes on glass, brush strokes one can see into. The older sister Kyona is an artist, and she is continually flipping through her drawing book. Somehow she manages to hang onto it. It is a delight to look at the pages as they turn. It is a little as if we are looking at the drawings being drawn, the film being made.

Mialhe is best at broad-brush line drawings, and those are what are celebrated in all those flips through the drawing book. The way Kyona and Adriel's faces are drawn is beautiful, Jewish, and classic, beautifully Jewish. Those images are a celebration of Jewishness - whereas it's not otherwise emphasized that their situation is unique. And that is a trouble - it's not clearly enough pinpointed.

Given the simple language, the fairytale details, and the focus on two young siblings, this seems like a readymade film for children, but as a French review said, due to the harshness of the story, it's hard to see it as suitable for those under 12.

The Crossing/La traversée, 84 mins., debuted at Annecy, the major animation festival, Jun. 2021, showing Sept. at an Sebastián, and subsequently at numerous other festivals. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July, 2022.

SFJFF SHOWTIMES:
Tuesday July 26, 2022
3:15 p.m.
Albany Twin


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KYONA'S SKETCHBOOK IN THE CROSSING

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