Three great French cartoons from the last dozen years

Whet your appetite for MICA’s Festival Image with these choice full-length features

April 15, 2010|By Michael Sragow | michael.sragow@baltsun.com | The Baltimore Sun

"Kirikou and the Sorceress" (1998)

Michel Ocelot's splendid animated feature tells a sensual, guilt-free fairy tale — a West African fable about the power of original innocence. A tiny baby boy named Kirikou pushes himself out of his mother at birth and rarely stops moving until he defeats the sorceress Karaba, who has laid waste to his village. Most of Kirikou's powers are simple, not super: the bravery of someone who doesn't know his limits, the forceful logic of untainted intelligence, a knack for healing rather than for revenge. Everything about the movie proves to be gloriously disarming. Ocelot lays out striking Rousseau-like forms and colors with Art Deco jazziness and lustre; his supporting human characters satirize meanness yet testify to redemption. (There are also some lovable squirrels.) It's the rare piece of filmed folk art that feels more authentic because of the moviemaker's sophistication.

"The Triplets of Belleville" (2003)

With all the disdain for American assembly-line methodology, can we please remember that Jean Cocteau was a fan of Walt Disney's? Sylvain Chomet certainly must have known that when he made this marvelous blend of synchronized silliness and surrealism. (It's named for three supporting characters: a scat-singing trio who become part of the hero's rescue team.) Not since Disney's 75-minute "Alice in Wonderland" (1951) has an animator filled the screen with so many flights of seemingly random invention that actually hook together in a swift, brief narrative. Champion, a woebegone orphan in a Paris suburb in the ‘50s, finds his calling when Madame Souza, his formidable, clubfooted grandma, buys him a tricycle. Roughly a decade later the boy enters the Tour de France only to have members of the French wine Mafia kidnap him mid-race and ship him off to Belleville, which is New York as a high-caloric melting pot — no matter how tired and poor they were when they got there, everyone has fattened up. Champion's dog, Bruno, is one of the all-time-great canine characters. He's brilliantly doglike in his omnipresent appetite but he's also possessed of an intricate interior life. He's Champion's comrade-in-pathos in a film that's a lunatic delight.

"Persepolis" (2007)

Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud collaborated on this Iranian girl's coming-of-age story, finding their own triumphant animation style with an odd, punk-streaked rigor and authority, like a comic-book versian of a Persian frieze. Satrapi threads the movie with anecdotes that render shifting loyalties and allegiances during national upheavals with enthralling complexity.It's a devastating stroke that a movie shot through with shades of gray should be drawn in black and white.

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