Courtesy of TAAFI (Toronto Animated Arts Festival International), I have just seen a terrific animated feature from France. It's original title is Le Jour des Corneilles and it was co-produced by France, Canada and South Korea. It is a drawn feature made for less than $10 million U.S. and is easily one of the best animated features I have seen in the last several years.
The film opens with two characters, a father and son who live in a forest. The father is a gruff barbarian who treats his son with disdain. The time period is impossible to determine. It could be a fantasy setting or could be any time in the historical past as there is nothing beyond the natural world to provide a clue. When the father is injured, the son ventures beyond the forest for the first time to find help, and we then learn that the film is set during the first World War.
The son has grown up isolated from anyone except his father and forest animals. At this point, the film becomes reminiscent of Francois Truffaut's The Wild Child, where the feral son has to adjust to life in civilization. As the film continues, it reveals the backstory of who the father is, how he came to live in the forest and what has determined his relationship with his son.
When I watch animated features made in North America, I always know where they're going. I hope for surprises or twists to break the film out of the predictable story structure that Hollywood continually falls back on. In this film, I had no idea where it was going and I loved the film for that. The characters were intriguing, their background was a mystery and the ultimate resolution was not guessable until it arrived.
Director Jean-Christophe Dessaint (left) with TAAFI director Ben McAvoyThe artwork is beautiful, the characters are well developed and the direction and pacing by Jean-Christophe Dessaint, who was present at the screening, were excellent. I was sitting between Jerry Beck (an old friend) and David Silverman of The Simpsons (who I met today) and the three of us loved the film. I said to Jerry that this film could easily be the wildcard Oscar nomination for animated feature this year. Each year, after the major animation studios have been stroked with nominations, the animation branch usually gives a film a nomination based purely on its quality. This film deserves that nomination this year. I don't believe that the film has a North American distributor yet, but this is the kind of film that Gkids has picked up in the past and I hope that they, or somebody else, grabs this film.
Apparently, it is already available in Blu-ray with English subtitles, though I don't know where it can be bought. The amazon.ca DVD listing says that it is bilingual, but there is no indication if it is dubbed or subtitled. In any case, if it is playing in a festival near you or turns up on Netflix or a cable channel, I highly recommend it. While the film is still child-friendly (though not for very young children), it has enough adult content that it is a satisfying experience.
It shows clearly that drawn animation is far from exhausted as a medium and it shows how much can be done for a relatively low budget. More and more, I know that the most interesting animated features are not coming from North America.