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Director: René Laloux
Release Date: January 28, 1988
Rating: ★★½

Gandahar © René Laloux‘Gandahar’ was to be René Laloux’s last feature, and like his former two feature films, ‘La planète sauvage‘ (1973) and ‘Les maîtres du temps‘ (1982), it’s a science fiction film set on a strange planet.

The film is especially related to ‘Les maîtres du temps’. Not only in visual style, but also with its story line involving mindless oppressors and time travelling. This time we’re on the paradise-like planet Gandahar, which is suddenly attacked by a powerful, yet unknown force. Soldier Sylvain is send away to find out who these enemies are…

‘Gandahar’ is the least successful of Laloux’s features. Its story, based on a 1969 novel by Jean-Pierre Andrevon, is entertaining enough, but the film’s narrative style is terrible. Practically everything that’s happening is explained by the main characters to us, even when we as viewers had come to our own conclusions. This is most preposterous in an early scene in which Sylvain finds his love interest Airelle, who immediately exclaims she’s falling in love with our hero. This must be one of the worst love scenes ever put to the animated screen.

The film’s ultimate villain is rather surprising, as is his downfall, even though he’s killed off ridiculously easily. Strangely enough the creature is given a long death scene, before the film abruptly ends. We don’t even watch Sylvain reunite with his love interest! Not that we did care, anyway, for the film’s main protagonists are as characterless as possible.

It’s a pity, for the film’s aesthetics are quite okay for a 1980s film. The animation, by a North-Korean studio, is fair, if not remarkable, and the designs by French comic book artist Philippe Caza are adequately otherwordly. Sure, he’s no Moebius, let alone a Roland Topor, and he never reaches the strangeness of the latter’s fantastic planet from 1973. In fact the film rarely succeeds in escaping the particularly profane visual style of the 1980s (e.g. ‘Heavy Metal’). Most interesting are the backgrounds, and Gabriel Yared’s musical score, which is inspired and which elevates the film to a higher level.

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

Director: René Laloux
Release date: March 24, 1981
Rating: ★★★★

Les maîtres du temps © René LalouxIn the science fiction film ‘Les maîtres du temps’ Jaffar, the muscular pilot of a spaceship, tries to rescue the little orphan Piel, who is the sole survivor of a massacre on the dangerous planet Perdide.

Jaffar’s only means of contact with the little boy is through an egg-shaped microphone which Piel calls ‘Mike’. Jaffar is aided by a jolly old man called Silbad, and two little telepathic creatures Silbad rescued from a flower, called Jad and Yula. His only passenger, however, the evil prince Matton, on escape with a treasure, tries to kill Piel in order to get sooner to Aldebaran…

‘Les maîtres du temps’ was René Laloux’ second animated feature film and it shares many characteristics with his first, ‘Le planète sauvage‘: it’s a science fiction film based on a novel by Stefan Wul and using designs by a famous french illustrator, this time comic artist Moebius (Jean Giraud). ‘Les maîtres du temps’ nevertheless is less outlandish than ‘Le planète sauvage’: it’s an ‘ordinary’ cel animation film and Moebius’s drawings are less surreal than Topor’s. Yet, they still manage to give the film an otherworldly quality. Especially his designs of Perdide are disturbing, rendering it an uncanny, dangerous planet, indeed.

Moebius’s style is very visible throughout the picture, except for the humans, who are drawn pretty uglily and fail to live up to Moebius’s own high standards. Only the little orphan Piel and the jolly old man Silbad are true to Moebius’s designs. Consequently, they are both very believable and likeable characters, where the others remain flat cardboard examples of ‘the hero’, ‘the beautiful woman’ and ‘the villain’. Their animation, too, remains stiff and unconvincing  In contrast, the funny little gnomes Jad and Yula are rendered very flexible and are responsible for some of the most beautiful animation in the film, which was practically all done by the Hungarian Pannonia Film Studio.

‘Les maîtres du temps’ is far from perfect, but mainly thanks to Piel’s character, with whom we can identify immediately, it’s a film with a heart. This, combined with some impressive science fiction images, especially of Perdide and of the planet Gamma 10, make the film one to return to over and over again.

After ‘Les maîtres du temps’ Laloux would make yet another Science fiction feature, now based on drawings by French comic artist Caza: ‘Gandahar‘. Unfortunately, it would prove to be the weakest of the trio.

Watch the trailer for ‘Les maîtres du temps’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: René Laloux
Release Date: 1988
Rating: ★★★★½

La prisonnière © René Laloux‘La Prisonnière’ is a short, rather surrealistic science fiction film about two children.

They visit an extraterrestrial monastery and witness a rescue of a prisoner by naked women who step out of a stranded whale.

The film looks like an animated version of designer Caza’s source comic, Équinoxe (which can be found here), and contains only a limited amount of animation. In his designs Caza’s style is very reminiscent of that of his fellow french comic artist Moebius.

‘La prisonnière’ seems like an etude for Laloux’s and Caza’s much bigger project, the feature film ‘Gandahar‘ (1988). The atmosphere of the short is poetic, if completely incomprehensible.

Watch ‘La Prisonnière’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘La Prisonnière’ is available on the DVD ‘Gandahar’

Director: René Laloux
Release Date: May 11, 1973
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

La planète Sauvage © René Laloux
‘La planète sauvage’ is an old love of mine. I first watched it when I was ca. six or seven. It took me fifteen years before I learned which film I had actually watched, and it would take me another ten years before I could watch it again. However, all the time the film’s powerful images never left me.

‘La planète sauvage’ is a science-fiction feature, which tells about the life of humans (‘Oms’, which sounds like the french word for humans, ‘hommes’) on a strange planet occupied by story-block-high humanoid giants, called Draags. To them humans are no more than pets and pests. By accident, a pet Om, Terr (symbolically named after the French word for Earth, terre), learns the Draags’ knowledge and he leads his fellow humans into an uprising.

However, ‘La planète sauvage’ is not particularly famous for its straightforward and rather cliche plot. Its strength lies in its effective use of Roland Topor’s very surrealistic designs, which makes the depicted planet incomprehensible, foreign and scary. For example, the Draag’s behavior is so strange, that despite their humanoid form they feel very alien, indeed. The film’s original technique of combining drawn animation with cut-out adds to the surreal atmosphere. Even the space funk music accompanying the action sounds outlandish.

Even though the animation sometimes is rather stiff and at times even ridiculously poor, the graphic imaginary is so strong that these shortcomings never spoil the enjoyment of the film. On the contrary, the film’s totally unique and disturbing atmosphere and its philosophical questions about what makes man human make watching ‘La planète sauvage’ a very rewarding experience.

Together with Bruno Bozzetto’s ‘Allegro non troppo’ (1976) and Martin Rosen’s ‘Watership Down’ (1978) Laloux’s film must be counted among the most outstanding features of the seventies. René Laloux would make two other science fiction features, ‘Les maîtres du temps‘ (1981) and ‘Gandahar‘ (1988), but these do not reach the stunning originality of the visuals in this film.

Watch the trailer for ‘La Planète sauvage’:

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