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Directors: Alain Gagnol & Jean-Loup Felicioli
Release Date: September 12, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

2015 was a good year for French animation. June already saw the release of the great movies ‘Avril et le monde truqué’ (April and the Extraordinary World) and ‘Tout en haut du monde’ (Long Way North), but these were topped in September by the Franco-Belgian production ‘Phantom Boy’.

‘Phantom Boy’ was created by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, who have been working together at the French Folimage studio since the mid-nineties, and who brought us the entertaining feature film ‘Une vie de chat’ (A Cat in Paris) in 2010. But compared to the earlier feature scenarist Gagnol adds an extra layer of depth to ‘Phantom Boy’, because this is not only an adventure film, but it also tells about a boy suffering from a deadly disease.

‘Phantom Boy’ is a children’s film set in New York, and tells about Léo, an eleven years old boy, who’s seriously ill (he’s probably suffering from cancer, but the exact illness is never revealed) and hospitalized. In the hospital Léo discovers that his spirit can leave his body and look around, encountering other spirits while doing so.

During one of these wanderings, he encounters the spirit of Alex Tanguy, an injured policeman. Tanguy is after a master villain, the “man with the deformed face”, who threatens to shut down the whole of New York with a computer virus if not delivered a huge sum of money. Unfortunately, Tanguy is stuck at the hospital, but he discovers Léo’s spirit can snoop around for him. Thus, Léo can help miss Delauney, a feisty journalist, who’s also on the villain’s trail. There’s a catch, however, Léo’s spirit must return to Léo’s body in time, or Léo will certainly die…

The film is thus a very nice mix of adventure, in which Léo’s superpower is used to a great effect, and drama, because the film makers never lose sight of Léo’s illness, and show the ails, fears, and sorrows of Léo and his family, as well. Thus, the film is not only exciting, but knows some really moving scenes, too.

Nevertheless, the film never becomes heavy- handed, and in fact is often very funny. Especially the master villain’s two helpers are great comic relief, but the best gag goes to the master villain himself, who several times tries to tell the story behind is deformation, only to get cut short all the time.

The film has a very pleasant visual style, courtesy of Jean-Loup Felicioli, who has given the film a very idiosyncratic take on the Franco-Belgian comic strip tradition. Typical for Felicioli is a strongly graphical and very angular style – not a thing is straight in this film, and the slant eyes of most characters. The man with the deformed face is practically cubist, with his multi-colored and checkered face. The color palette is warm and appealing, and the animation uses the jittery style often encountered in independent shorts.

Films like this prove that traditional animation is far from dead (‘Phantom Boy’ was even drawn on paper, and hand colored, even though the final composition was done on the computer), and in fact allows for a less generic and more adventurous style than contemporary computer animation. I’ll even go that far to name ‘Phantom Boy’ the best animated feature of 2015, despite serious competition from both ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ and ‘Inside Out’.

Watch the trailer for ‘Phantom Boy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Phantom Boy’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Nicole van Goethem
Release Date: 1985
Rating:
Review:

Een Griekse tragedie © Nicole van Goethem‘A Greek Tragedy’ won an Academy Award and the first prize at the Annecy Inernational Film Festival. I remain puzzled why.

‘A Greek Tragedy’ was Van Goethem’s first own film. It’s a classic gag cartoon featuring three living, scarcely clad female caryatids supporting an old ruin. When the ruin crumbles, and they’re finally free, we watch them dancing into the distance.

The designs are trite, the synthesizer music is ugly, the humor is poor, and the story forgettable. If this short has a hidden, perhaps feminist message, it’s lost on me. And then to imagine, that one of the short’s competitors for the Oscars was ‘Luxo jr.’, a far more convincing and rewarding film in every respect!

Watch ‘Een Griekse tragedie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Een Griekse tragedie’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Rémi Vandenitte
Release Date: June 8, 2013
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Betty's Blues © Rémi Vandenitte‘Betty’s Blues’ is Vandenitte’s ode to the country blues, and its origins in the South of the United States.

The film is a frame story, with two distinct styles. The framing story is told in stop-motion. We watch a young black blues singer perform in a small and empty bar near a metro line (we hear the cars rattling by from time to time). The singer tells his audience the story of Betty’s Blues. Enter the drawn animation.

The story itself is about a blues singer who loses his girl to the K.K.K. and becomes blind himself. In return for his blindness he receives the gift to make everybody dance to his guitar playing. When he meets the K.K.K. again, his revenge is sweet. The film ends with the audience shocked with horror by this rather violent story.

Both Vandenitte’s stop-motion and 2D animation are of a high quality. His stop-motion puppets have a delightfully gritty texture, and Vandenitte’s animation of guitar playing is wonderfully convincing. In the 2D sequences Vandenitte makes use of a technique simulating wood carving, combined with bold and evocative coloring, sometimes mimicking the color palette of that great cinematic ode to the musical South, ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’. The result is a gorgeous film, if a little shallow in the end.

Watch the teaser for ‘Betty’s Blues’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date:
1968
Rating★★★★★
Review:

Sirene © Raoul ServaisIn a sinister harbor, where cranes behave like giant dinosaurs and where pterodactyli fly a young flute player brings a mermaid to life. Unfortunately, the mermaid is captured by one of the cranes and dropped to death.

‘Sirene’ is a beautiful, surrealistic film with its own creepy and somber atmosphere. Luckily, there’s also space for some dark humor when the authorities arrest an innocent fisherman and when a zoo and a hospital argue about the mermaid’s body.  ‘Sirene’ definitely among Servais’s best films, arguably only equaled by ‘To Speak or not to Speak (1970) and ‘Harpya‘.

Watch ‘Sirene’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date: 1979
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Harpya © Raoul ServaisA man rescues a harpy from a man who strangles her. He takes her home, but with disastrous results, because he soon discovers that the harpy eats all his food…

‘Harpya’ is a fantastic surreal film, which makes great use of a mixture of animation, live action and pixillation to create a totally unique atmosphere. The film is both funny and uncanny, and its story is Servais’s best since ‘Sirene’ (1968).

With ‘Harpya’ Raoul Servais made his most enduring work. It’s his all-time masterpiece, and a central film in his oeuvre, defining his mature style.

Watch ‘Harpya’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date: 1973
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pegasus © Raoul Servais‘Pegasus’ tells about a lonely blacksmith who lives in the countryside.

The blacksmith has a love for horses, but unfortunately his surroundings are totally devoid of them. So he builds a horse head out of metal to worship. Unfortunately, the horse head appears to have an ability to grow and reproduce, surrounding his house like a forest.

‘Pegasus’ is a beautiful and surreal film. Unfortunately, it ends quite abruptly, leaving behind a sense that not everything has been said, yet.

Watch ‘Pegasus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Operation X-70 © Raoul ServaisOperation X-70 is a half silly, half scary short by Belgian film maker Raoul Servais.

It tells about a poisonous gas, which turns people into spiritual beings. The gas is advertised as a ‘clean weapon’, because it doesn’t kill people. When the gas is accidentally bombed on the Benelux (Belgium, Holland and Luxemburg), it turns people into angels.

The film impresses with its weird idea, its dark and gloomy atmosphere, and its anti-war message. However, like Raoul Servais’s earlier film ‘Goldframe’ (1968), the film suffers from an all too present dialogue. In the end the short’s images are more lasting than the film itself is.

Watch ‘Operation X-70’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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