April and the Ex­tra­or­di­nary World

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Robert Ker

APRIL AND THE EX­TRA­OR­DI­NARY WORLD, an­i­mated steam­punk, rated PG, in French with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

The ex­tra­or­di­nary world of the film’s ti­tle refers to a fan­tas­ti­cal al­ter­nate re­al­ity in which the lead­ing sci­en­tists of the 19th cen­tury have been mys­te­ri­ously kid­napped. In 1941, peo­ple live in a steam­punk so­ci­ety where twin Eif­fel Tow­ers sup­port the weight of a grand trol­ley and air­ships bil­low steam as they glide through the sky.

The ti­tle also could re­fer to the world in which we live, as the an­i­mated movie seems to draw from an in­cred­i­ble num­ber of sources. It was pro­duced by artists in France, Bel­gium, and Canada, and nicks a bit from the plucky scoundrels of Charles Dick­ens, the steel-and-coal sci­ence fic­tion of Metropo­lis, and quite a lot from Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion — par­tic­u­larly in its en­vi­ron­men­tal themes and slightly dystopian set­ting. All the while, the film re­tains sen­si­bil­i­ties dis­tinctly that of con­ti­nen­tal Europe. The ti­tle, af­ter all, could also be a sly wink to Fan­tas­tic Planet, the sur­real 1973 movie that is one of France’s most fa­mous an­i­mated films.

Based on the graphic novel by Jac­ques Tardi and di­rected by Chris­tian Des­mares and Franck Ek­inci, the movie cen­ters on a wo­man named April (voiced by Mar­ion Cotil­lard) and her mis­sion to learn what hap­pened to her sci­en­tist par­ents, who were kid­napped on the verge of a mas­sive break­through. She makes some dis­cov­er­ies and soon finds her­self stay­ing just ahead of gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties and find­ing some un­likely com­pan­ions in her quest.

The plot is merely a ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cle for the ideas and an­i­ma­tion on dis­play, and this lovely, dream­like film is con­cep­tu­ally re­al­ized just enough to feel wel­com­ing. It re­calls a great deal of Hayao Miyazaki’s work, from the talk­ing-cat side­kick that re­calls Kiki’s De­liv­ery Ser­vice to the house that crawls around on in­sect-like legs and may re­mind au­di­ences of Howl’s

Mov­ing Cas­tle. The tech­nol­ogy churns slowly and bil­lows beau­ti­ful puffs of steam, much as it does in many of Miyazaki’s films. That could also de­scribe the ac­tion, how­ever: It moves at a re­laxed pace that seems to slightly defy grav­ity and doesn’t fully feel ex­cit­ing or sat­is­fy­ing to those weaned on Hol­ly­wood ac­tion movies and an­i­mated ad­ven­ture.

That is the Euro­pean na­ture of the film shin­ing through. It may ul­ti­mately re­mind view­ers of Bel­gian car­toon­ist Hergé’s The Ad­ven­tures of

Tintin, with its tall fig­ures in frumpy clothes, ex­press­ing them­selves with faces marked by long noses and beady eyes. That se­ries had a pa­tient, civ­i­lized ap­proach to its Jules Verne-like ad­ven­tures, and so does this film. It un­furls slowly and doesn’t add up to much, but the act of watch­ing it is re­lax­ing and, at times, ex­tra­or­di­nary.

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