The pro­duc­ers of new an­i­mated fea­ture Bal­le­rina dis­cuss recre­at­ing 1880s Paris.

France - - Bienvenue - Pierre de Vil­liers

When you were born in Paris, you some­times forget that it’s one of the most beau­ti­ful cities in the world,” sighs screen­writer Lau­rent Zeitoun. “All you need to do is to stand some­where for a few min­utes, look around and re­alise you’re liv­ing in an open-air mu­seum that peo­ple still dream about.”

Zeitoun had to take a sec­ond look at the city of his birth thanks to Bal­le­rina, a new an­i­mated fea­ture that he has co-writ­ten and pro­duced. A com­bi­na­tion of Rocky and Billy El­liot, it tells the story of Féli­cie, a young or­phan from Brit­tany who, in a time when the Eif­fel Tower was still be­ing con­structed, es­capes to the cap­i­tal to live her dream of be­com­ing a prima bal­le­rina at the Paris Opéra. While the story is a stir­ring one, it is the lush vi­su­als that stand out, with 1880s Paris beau­ti­fully recre­ated. It is an an­i­mated city built on ex­haus­tive re­search.

“Our art di­rec­tor Florent Ma­surel ‘lived’ in the Paris of the era: he spent six months on ar­chive re­search, both vis­ual and graphic,” ex­plains co-pro­ducer Yann Ze­nou. “He ex­am­ined paint­ings, en­grav­ings, lit­er­a­ture; he dis­sected the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal con­text; he stud­ied every street, every pro­fes­sion. His guid­ing light was the trans­for­ma­tions that were go­ing on thanks to Baron Hauss­mann, who had be­gun by widen­ing squares and av­enues.”

Of all the build­ings drawn by an­i­ma­tors, none was more im­por­tant than the ma­jes­tic Palais Garnier, which housed the Paris Opéra, the mag­net draw­ing Féli­cie to the city. “We found all the orig­i­nal blue­prints in the Opéra archives,” says Zeitoun. “We called on in­de­pen­dent ar­chi­tects to re­cre­ate the struc­ture of the building, and then make a model; it was a Her­culean task.”

The pro­duc­tion even em­ployed bal­let chore­og­ra­phers to make sure the dance move­ments were spot-on. For dancer Jérémie Bélin­gard that meant re­vis­it­ing his child­hood. “I did a three-month in­tern­ship at the Paris Opéra,” he re­calls. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting all alone, wait­ing for my class and Ru­dolf Nureyev ar­rived. I greeted him, as is the tra­di­tion when you run into a danseur étoile [prin­ci­pal dancer]. He stopped, looked at me, and re­turned the bow. I was 11.”

Bal­le­rina will ap­peal to a wide au­di­ence, but re­mains quintessen­tially French and stands out from the car­toon crowd. “We were of­ten told that any self-re­spect­ing an­i­mated film needs to have an­i­mals which talk, and he­roes who break into song,” says co-pro­ducer Ni­co­las Du­val-adassovsky.” But we pre­ferred to bank on the re­al­ism of the story, the co­her­ence be­tween the char­ac­ters and the course of their ad­ven­tures.”

Now, a lit­tle like Féli­cie, the Bal­le­rina crew will watch ner­vously as their film heads out into the world. Bal­le­rina is in cin­e­mas from 19 De­cem­ber.

The lat­est of­fer­ing from broth­ers Jean-pierre and Luc Dar­denne is a de­tec­tive film with a dif­fer­ence. At its heart, The Un­known Girl has a sleuth who car­ries a ther­mome­ter, not a gun, and prefers wear­ing a hoody to a trench coat. Fiercely de­ter­mined to find out the truth be­hind the death of a young girl, Dr Jenny Davin (Haenel) makes a fas­ci­nat­ing pro­tag­o­nist in this Franco-bel­gian pro­duc­tion that un­der­lines why the Dar­dennes are seen as mas­ters of so­cial re­al­ist drama.

Davin is a young doc­tor mov­ing up in the world who, late one night at her surgery in Liège in Bel­gium, makes a fa­tal mis­take. When she hears some­one push­ing the buzzer af­ter hours she re­fuses to open up, telling her in­tern Julien (Bon­naud): “Some­one who comes this late doesn’t care how tired we are.”

The fol­low­ing day, Davin is shocked to hear from po­lice that the body of a girl has been found just down the road. CCTV footage shows the teenager fran­ti­cally run­ning from some­one and try­ing to get into the surgery. If only Davin had let her in, she might still be alive. Wracked with guilt, the doc­tor tries to dis­cover the vic­tim’s iden­tity and how she died. As she digs into the girl’s past, Davin runs into re­sis­tance from the po­lice and sev­eral shady char­ac­ters.

In typ­i­cal Dar­dennes fash­ion, The Un­known Girl moves slowly but re­wards your pa­tience with some in­trigu­ing in­sights into guilt, ac­count­abil­ity and the plight of im­mi­grants and work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties. And while a slightly con­trived sto­ry­line means this won’t rate among the broth­ers’ best work, there is still plenty to take away from a beau­ti­fully re­strained film.

A scene from the new Paris-set an­i­ma­tion Bal­le­rina

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