Ernest et Célestine
screenplay by Daniel Pennac, based on books by Gabrielle Vincent
directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner
directed by Frank Pavich
by Walter Chaw Broad, earnest, unassuming animation from France, Ernest & Celestine is the tale of a little girl mouse, Celestine (voice of Pauline Brunner), and gruff bear Ernest (Lambert Wilson), who overcome their cultural prejudices to become fast friends. Celestine is outcast because she'd like to be an artist instead of a dentist; Ernest is outcast because he's a busker struggling to eke out a subsistence living. Over a series of misadventures, the two end up doing the Badlands in Ernest's ramshackle hideaway, awaiting their fate and trying to enjoy their borrowed time. It's all leading to a grim ending, but it's not that kind of movie.
There's subtext here if you want to worry it, most of it in a parallel set of courtroom sequences that speak loud to an acceptance of (platonic, in this instance) miscegenation, perhaps, but more topically to the whole gay-rights thing. But it's better as just a pleasantly-stylized bit of effluvium about accepting differences, not accepting conventional wisdom, and carving out your own path. It has funny moments, touching moments, a plucky heroine, a gesture now and again that reminds that Miyazaki used to do this stuff in his sleep, and enough well-earned chuckles to merit a look. It is, in other words, absolutely fine and entirely likeable. That it's as lauded as it has been suggests a real paucity of quality animated product for children in a market dominated by aggressively mediocre stuff like Frozen (and frankly awful stuff like Mr. Peabody & Sherman). Where that one has Adele Dazeem's full-throated Great White Way theatrics, Ernest & Celestine gets by with whimsy and gentle slapstick. A lesson there, I suppose, about being the most eloquent speaker engaged in a diminished conversation.
The same minor hyperbole surrounds Frank Pavich's documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, which recounts how the madman behind films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain once came thisclose to applying his sensibilities to Frank Herbert's sci-fi pulp classic Dune. I've loved Dune since I first read it in junior high. I loved it enough that when I saw David Lynch's 1984 adaptation, I forced myself to love it, too. I have trouble defending the picture as something other than a cult curiosity now, truth be told, though I've tried to mine auteur hallmarks from it when it comes up in the stray conversation or flip reference. It's the hip thing to do.
The premise of Jodorowsky's Dune is that, with over 3,000 storyboard drawings completed by legendary French comic artist Mœbius, with character designs and production concepts by a pre-Alien Giger, with Pink Floyd on board, even, to compose the score--with all of these things, the world was deprived at the eleventh hour of one of the great masterpieces of the cinema. I'm an admirer of Jodorowsky's, of course: indeed, his work--one part Pasolini, two parts Buñuel, all clothed in obscenity and grand pretension--can only really inspire admiration. The documentary's contention that Jodorowsky's early films inspired riots could be cribbed from tales from the L'age d'or/Werner Herzog oral history. It's fun to picture Jodorowsky back then, teamed with Dan O'Bannon doing the special effects after Douglas Trumbull turned the project down, and to imagine Salvador Dali as a paranoid emperor and Orson Welles as the Baron Harkonnen. But a game of what-if is kind of all this is. Attempts to illustrate how the massive Jodorowsky-created storyboard must have made the rounds in Hollywood, infecting things like The Terminator, Flash Gordon, Star Wars, and so on, are, you know, convincing if you want them to be. I wrote a screenplay with my best friend in high school and sent it off blind, and the two of us were convinced that Eraser had ripped off parts of it a few years later.
Anyway, there's one scene late in the saga that rescues Jodorowsky's Dune a little: After we get to the part where funding fell through, a still-plucky 84-year-old Jodorowsky spits out his manifesto in defense of cinema as a vital art. He throws down wads of bills and calls them empty; he calls us slaves to studio groupthink; he says that film has a head ("whoowooowoowooosh") and a heart ("thump thump THUMP!"). In an instant, he reveals how it is that he used to get people to follow him on wild flights of fancy. He's insane in the best way; I love that he tortured his son with years of martial-arts training and obscure philosophy to get him ready to play Muad'Dib hisownself. It's a great moment in a movie that seems engineered mainly to lead to it.