I only have a bit of time before class starts, but I wanted to laud a film I saw last night, Avril et le monde truqué, while it is still fresh and vivid in my mind. The title of the film seems to have two official English translations, “April and the Twisted World” and “April and the Extraordinary World.” This makes me very curious about the adjective, truqué.
I state a lot of hyperbole on this blog and throw a lot of praise on the stuff I’ve seen. I think the reason for this is less because I am easy to please, and more because I have gotten to know my taste well enough over the years to have developed a decent intuition for what I will enjoy from marketing, trailers, and word of mouth alone.
SOME SPOILERS BELOW
Anyway, this film is extraordinary. It is set in only a somewhat twisted (but still oppressive) coalpunk world, where science is not done in the open. A free scientist risks capture by secret police and enslavement by imperial states to build war machines to fight nations in neverending wars for charcoal — or capture by cloud-manipulating tiltrotors and enslavement by lizard overlords in exoskeletons to work on a project to synthesize an invincibility serum.
The wonder in the film is not in its examination of the scientific method. You will see the familiar tropes of solo genius, no control condition, DIY science in basement, etc. Scientific developments are there not to drive a discussion of the philosophy of science, but to further the plot. Instead, perhaps as expected for an animated film, the appeal is in the aesthetic, and the wonderful sense of adventure in the story. The opening credits sequence (one of the best I have ever seen), sets the tone for a quirky ride. There are a lot of secret buttons, secret rooms, and secret bases, an absolutely treat for people like me who dig that sort of thing. The intricate coalpunk tech had me marveling and smiling at multiple points — the gargantuan cable car and plodding AT-ST-resembling mansion. At times, they evoked a dirtier version of what I’d seen in Spirited Away and Castle in The Sky. There is an emphasis on the environmental cost of industrialization that also reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki’s work. The ash-gray of soot, coal, and charcoal is the dominant color scheme for much of the film; we see a sickly Europe that has been entirely deprived of trees (there are apparently only three oak trees left in France at one point in the narrative). There is a talking cat, too. But in terms of influences, this film most obviously homages the work of Jules Verne for me. The last act clearly calls to Journey to The Center of The Earth, with its involvement of a huge, underground cavernous space.
Marion Cotillard does an impressive job voice-acting the protagonist. What makes or break voice acting for me is often the non-verbal sounds the character makes. Cotillard is spot on with her sighs and grunts, no sexual innuendo intended.
Finally, I really enjoyed the whimsical and absurdist sense of humor that stays constant through the whole film. You cannot have an adventure narrative without humor. During the transition to the epilogue, a narrator cheerily announces that after the events of the climax, the world enters an era of peace and proceeds to move from dirty coal to clean and environmentally friendly oil.
And now, I gotta go to class. Watch this film if you can.