Sunday 8 November 2015

French Animation, Chapitre 8 - April and the Twisted World

Previously: Asterix: The Land of the Gods

What is it?
April and the Twisted World (aka Avril et le Monde Truqué in its original version) is a 2D animated adventure film set in a steampunk/uchronic world; in 1870, a single event derails the course of History, and in the 20th century France is still an Empire ruled by the Bonapartes (most of the film happens under the tenure of Napoléon V). The great scientists of the world are mysteriously disappearing, which causes scientific advances to stall. As a result, everything runs on steam or coal and the Earth has gone through a massive deforestation.
The story follows April, a young girl living in Paris with her talking cat Darwin. She'll have to find out what happened to the scientists, including her missing parents.

The film (a French-Belgian-Canadian co-production that won the award for the best feature film at this year's Annecy International Animated Film Festival) was directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. Desmares previously worked on Persepolis and the Oggy and the Cockroaches TV show as an animation coordinator, while Ekinci wrote for the Space Goofs and was a storyboard artist on the 90's Tintin TV series.
Franck Ekinci penned the story with French author Benjamin Legrand (co-writer of The Snow-Piercer graphic novel).
The look of April is based on drawings by comic-book artist Jacques Tardi.

How is it?
It's by a pretty large margin my favourite French animated film of the year (the other ones I have seen are Mune, The Guardian of the Moon which I reviewed earlier this year, and Phantom Boy); but not only that, I find it better than most animated films of 2015, being bested in my mind only by the amazing Inside Out and Shaun the Sheep Movie.

The film is not perfect however, so let's address what is not that good before talking about everything that works in April and the Twisted World; let's start at the beginning, since it's definitely one of the weakest points in the movie: in order to sell the uchronic universe, an all-knowing narrator tells us what is different about this alternative History; it's understandable, but to open the film with such a fourth-wall-breaking sequence almost takes you out of the story before it even begins.
I also found that moments which should have been moving lacked the emotional punch it needed. I can't explain why, but as much as I liked the story and characters of April and the Twisted World, I wasn't as affected as I would have thought.

But as I said, the story works rather well. It's a fast-paced adventure with enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Some of those twists are not very surprising, but they're still entertaining and sometimes they venture into bizarre territory; which is always fun. The third act, particularly, is totally different from what you could expect to see at the beginning of the movie.
I wouldn't say the film is a comedy, but there are some clever jokes thrown here and there for good measure. And when April tries to be funny, it usually succeeds. The audience of my screening reacted quite audibly to some of the humorous moments.

Jacques Tardi's very recognizable drawing style is a delight to see in animation. The characters are deceptively simple, as they all have that clean ligne claire look; but the thick, round line and the colour palette of Tardi work amazingly and surprisingly well when moving.
The graphic rendition of the steampunk world is where the film really shines at its brightest. Seeing people evolving in a Paris where every landmark has been turned into a functional piece in a coal-based economy is a delight; Tardi has been drawing the French capital in many of his comic books, and a lot of elements in the movie are recurrent graphic themes in his work. In a way, April and the Twisted World is a tribute from the filmmakers to Jacques Tardi.
But Desmares and Ekinci also take ideas from other artists: there's some Hayao Miyazaki in some scenes, a nod to Fritz Lang's Metropolis and even some Doctor Who-esque vibes towards the end of the movie. But all of that meshes perfectly together, and - from the two Eiffel towers to the smallest details - it's a completely believable world that the two directors were able to create.

April and the Twisted World is a delightful animated film that, while being inspired by other great pieces, looks and feels unique. It's a fun, inventive and wonderful adventure in a believable - yet weird - uchronic world. The characters are interesting and more complex that it may seem at first, and there's even some deeper meaning hidden behind the fast-paced story.
Marion Cotillard delivers a strong performance as the French voice of April, and the rest of the voice cast does a solid job.
It gets my personal seal of approval and I wholeheartedly recommend you see it if you get the chance.

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