Joshua Reviews Stéphane Aubier And Vincent Patar’s Ernest And Celestine [PIFF 2014 Review]

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When it comes to animated cinema, few companies have taken hold of the art form quite like big studio names like Disney. However, with a growing number of smaller animation houses like Laika, the animation game is not only changing, but it is seeing a greater number of foreign and arthouse entries making waves.

Take, for example, the newest film from beloved animation distributor GKids. Entitled Ernest And Celestine, the film comes to us from directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, and comes from a beloved Belgian book series from writer Gabrielle Vincent. This award winning animated comedy tells a time tested story of friends who should never be together.

In a world where bears live above ground while mice take to below ground in a series of tunnels, the film introduces us to a bear named Ernest, a troubadour of sorts, who forms a friendship with Celestine, a painter mouse who pesters him into allowing her to stay in his house. When the two worlds set out to tear them apart only to force the bond between the two to be even stronger, the film goes from small scale tale of friendship to a breathtaking comedy that is as kinetic as a silent classic and as entertaining as any great cartoon comedy.

The biggest takeaway from this experience, at least at first glance, is the aesthetic. Bursting with color, this pastel-colored feature takes a watercolor animation style that seems ripped directly off a canvas painted by the young Celestine. From the very first frame, the film proclaims itself as a bombastic and ever imaginative look at friendship against all odds. Admittedly a breezy picture narratively, the film more than makes up for this broad log-line with its breathless aesthetic, with gorgeous pencil work that feels as vital and alive as a child’s dream or a youngster’s attempt at putting that dream to the page. There’s a sense of light and shadow here that gives the film some playful sight gags, and the comedy here is as physical as a Chaplin classic, or a film Harold Lloyd would have been proud to star in.  Toss in a lively score from composer Vincent Courtois and you have a film that may be in a foreign language, but if you’re a parent who has introduced your kids to silent cinema, this one will most certainly keep their interest, and leave them wanting to never leave the world this group of filmmakers creates for the viewer.

However, the voice performances, for the adults, are revelatory. The film stars Pauline Brunner as Celestine, the real star here. There is a sense of youth and innocence given to this character through her beautiful voice, really giving some vitality to not only her character, but also the drama that she finds herself in. Opposite her is Lambert Wilson as Ernest, the big and gruff bear who is secretly as warm and inviting a character as you’ll find on the big screen. The two may be absolute opposites in every imaginable way, but these two actors breath life into each of their characters and the chemistry they share is utterly unmistakable. Clocking in at just shy of 80 minutes, the film is brisk and beautifully paced, and an unforgettable meditation on friendship and how sometimes, the person we need in our life most is the one we least expect. With a final handful of frames that will leave any and all viewers in absolute shambles, this tale of pure friendship is a near masterpiece with its only flaw being that it has to ultimately end.

Upcoming Screenings:

Fri, Feb 7, 201 at 6 PM (Whitsell Auditorium)

Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 6 PM (Fox Tower)