Hello there and welcome to the inaugural post of No-English Moviember! This has been plaguing me for months and to finally have the chance to do it is absolutely wondrous. Not only that, but I get to kick off this month with a review of one of the best animated films to come out in recent years, the French-Belgian comedy-drama Ernest et Célestine.
But first, as has become tradition on The Chronic Chronicler, we must do the obligatory overview! Célestine (Pauline Brunner) is a young mouse who lives in a society where the bears that live above them are feared and reviled. To fear bears is the norm for mouse society, something that the orphanage’s caretaker, The Grey One (Anne-Marie Loop), tries to condition the minds of the mice children into believing.
Yet Célestine is different as, not only is she sceptical of the “all bears are bad” story, she also baulks against becoming a dentist, the occupation all rodents have, making her something which makes her a social pariah. Ernest (Lambert Wilson) is also something of a social pariah, having to busk in order to get food which gets him in a lot of trouble.
However it is only when Célestine is stuck in a bin whilst trying to retrieve a bear cub’s tooth (the only replacement for a broken mouse’s tooth and the basis of the mouse world’s dental practice) that the hungry Ernest and the hopeful Célestine unite to form a friendship which, against all societal norms, society won’t let go unchallenged.
It’s strange that always appears to be the simplest stories that end up having the most depth to them as well as becoming more endearing. The story of a bear and a mouse befriending each other seems so banal and simplistic that if you wrote it down and told some friends that this was an Oscar-nominated film, they would quite reasonable and within their rights to take you outside and sacrificially burn you.
Yet if those same friends watched Ernest et Célestine, they would have to come to the conclusion that you were right and that your charred remains probably deserved a better burial than being thrown into a skip.
The film tackles such a big issue of bear-mice friendship, which can as a metaphor for race-relations/LGBT issues/cultural divisions, etc., in a way which, may have been a bit obvious for older viewers, is dealt with very succinctly for younger viewers. For those who haven’t yet been turned into bitter cynics, Ernest et Célestine manages to get a valuable lesson across in an entertaining and, most importantly of all, non-preachy way.
Ernest et Célestine’s way of bringing society’s tendencies of creating societal “Others” is quite an impressive feat. Not only does it make abundantly clear that we are similar in our ignorance and fear of those who are not in our group, with the bears demonising mice and the mice in turn vilifying bears, it also rings true to the world of today.
The film is especially poignant now, what with the 2014 European elections producing more right-wing parties, such as Front National and the UK Independence Party, opposed to the idea of the European Union and the freedom of movement within it. We hope that separation because of otherness would be a thing of the past, yet looking at the world now this seems to be a hopeful dream.
Yet while all this is going on, it is somewhat comforting to see that people still have some sanity and rationality about them, seeing others not as something to be pushed away and blamed for all their woes, but something to be embraced in order to make our own culture richer for its diversity and acceptance.
However not only is the moral of this film is a good, nay, a fantastic one; Ernest et Célestine does not rest on its laurels. Not only does it show you how to become a more accepting person, but provides such delightful comedy that I’m sure doctors around the globe are considering its health benefits.
The comedy is mostly visual so you won’t have to be constantly reading the subtitles to get the jokes, but even when it turns to more dialogue based humour Ernest et Célestine still manages to tick all the right boxes. Ernest is the main focus of the comedy and it pays dividends as to see his lumbering frame fall, be comically hurt or even get into embarrassing situations, it all has the same result, having you smile, smirk and/or snigger.
That’s not to say Célestine is immune from being humorous, yet her humour comes off from her partnership with Ernest rather than being the comic force when she inhabits the screen alone. Célestine is more used as the drama hook, wanting to fulfil her hopes and dreams which Ernest understands perfectly.
To leave this to so late in the review about an animated film appears to be so bizarre, but it’s better late than never to say the animation is incredibly picturesque. While becoming softer and less realistic than Gabrielle Vincent’s original stories, it is still delightful to see. The watercolour style is quite apt when Célestine wishes to become an artist yet is also brilliant and both beautiful artworks and lessens to focus on the background.
What I mean by this is that the artwork does not jump out of you to be noticed; rather it looks quite subdued, in a clean and played down fashion. While sometimes the artwork is intricate to give you the sense of a whole new world, such as the first time you see Célestine’s subterranean world, yet also have the courage to leave background items a little blurred and out of focus so that your attention is drawn to the centre without compromising the beauty of the art.
Speaking of being drawn to the centre, I must give full credit to Lambert Wilson and Pauline Brunner’s performances as Ernest and Célestine respectively. While Lambert Wilson is an old hand in the film industry and his talents in Ernest et Célestine are clearly evident, I must give credit to the newcomer Pauline Brunner.
A cursory search for her produces very few results with her only work outside Ernest et Célestine being the 2014 film Paris Follies. Their voices compliment the characters so well that to hear them in English would be a disservice to the characters and the talents of these two individuals. This is not say that the supporting cast do not do a good job either but, with Wilson and Brunner’s voice being the one’s we hear for the majority of the film, their performances are due to most praise.
Ernest et Célestine is a glorious display of traditional animation that has somehow lost its outlet in the new world of computer animation dominance. Its length at 75 minutes may be considered short, but with the directorial talents of Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, Ernest et Célestine is a film which everyone, no matter what age or language, can enjoy.
Thank you all for reading and thank goodness No-English Moviember finally got started! This month is all about movies not in the English language and is an effort to highlight films we might not have seen otherwise because they are made and distributed beyond our English-centric view. So I hope you enjoy this month as much as I do because next Monday I’ll be reviewing the Saudi-Arabian film Wadjda! See you next week!
If you want to join in on No-English Moviember, please feel free to start your own reviews or write one for this blog page by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also don’t forget to follow me here on WordPress or even on Facebook and Twitter as well and don’t forget to use #NEM when talking about No-English Moviember. Merci encore pour la lecture! (What I hope is “Thank you again for reading!”).