A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fantastic Planet (René Laloux, 1973)

"Fantastic Planet" isn't a very satisfactory translation of La Planète Sauvage, the original French title, but the more accurate "Wild Planet" might have led audiences in 1973 to expect a film about a world overrun with motorcycle gangs. Conceived and written by René Laloux and Roland Topor, from a novel by Stefan Wul, designed by Topor and animated by the Jiři Trnka Studio in Prague, Fantastic Planet is a sci-fi fable about the nature of humanity and its place in the universe. The humans in Fantastic Planet are called Oms (from the French hommes), and they are tiny things in a world where the dominant species is the Draags, giant blue humanoid creatures with big red eyes. The Draags consider Oms at best curious little animals and at worst vermin that need periodic efforts at pest control. At the beginning of the film we see a female Om carrying her baby, on the run but being flicked back by a great blue Draag finger each time she thinks she has made it to safety. It turns out that she is being played with by some Draag children, and when the Om mother is accidentally killed, a Draag girl named Tiwa takes the baby as to raise as a pet and calls him Terr. Tiwa outfits Terr with a kind of electronic collar that she can use to pull him back to her if he runs off. As the years pass and Terr grows up, Tiwa tires of her pet and one day he makes his escape and joins up with other Oms, one of whom helps him remove the collar. But Terr has something to share with his rescuers: The Draags receive their education through a headset, and a glitch in Terr's collar has allowed him to listen in on her lessons. Moreover, in his escape, he has stolen Tiwa's headset, and can now share the knowledge possessed by the Draags with his fellow Oms. Eventually, this leads to a revolution in which the Oms are finally able to go to war with the Draags and exploit their vulnerabilities. Much has been made of the fact that the animation was done in Czechoslovakia, beginning in 1967 in the era of the "Prague Spring," and that work on the film was interrupted by the 1968 Soviet invasion. Laloux experienced constant interference from the suspicious authorities, delaying the completion of the film, and the political background adds a piquancy to the finished product. But Fantastic Planet is hardly an allegory of resistance to Soviet repression. It has its roots, as Laloux noted, in the satire of Rabelais, and English speakers will probably find a Swiftian echo in the confrontation of little people and giants. The animation using paper cutouts also recalls Terry Gilliam's work for Monty Python, but the imagination is all Laloux's and Topor's. Alain Goraguer's jazz soundtrack adds immeasurably to the delicate, melancholic tone of Fantastic Planet, giving it a timeless quality where other products of the psychedelic era, like Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968), now seem dated.

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