Sunday 30 September 2018

Look Closely at the Mountains (Ana Vaz, 2018)

Look Closely at the Mountains is an engaging slice of experimenta which features two areas inextricably linked with mining: Minas Gerais in Brazil, and France's Nord-Pas-de-Calais (actually now part of Hauts-de-France, a concept which I still can't get used to).  Apart from the obvious cultural differences between the two, each place's attitude to mining could hardly be more different.  The Nord-Pas-de-Calais, after three centuries of the type of heavy industry made famous by Zola, finally abandoned mining in the 1980s; the region subsequently looked to erase the activity from its collective memory, before eventually acknowledging it as an important part of its heritage.  Minas, on the other hand, is an area in which mining is still very much alive - despite the state being the location of the Bento Rodrigues dam catastrophe of 2015, which is widely considered to be the worst environmental disaster in Brazil's history.

The juxtaposition is extreme, to say the very least.  In Minas, we witness the mining-assisted erosion of history and culture, whereas the industry's legacy in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais includes genuinely surprising biodiversity; there's quite an array of flora and fauna among the many slag heaps which pepper the rich coal seam that runs just next to the Belgian border.  We barely get a glimpse of the ex-mining sites of France in daylight, but rather are treated to nocturnal footage of the resident wildlife being studied and measured by diligent workers.  Oh, and there are some seriously cute bats featured here - you have been warned.

There is much to admire here - the basic concept is quite brilliant in its simplicity - but there is one rather off-putting aspect to the film in the form of its overall look.  At any given time, the photography is either washed out or excessively murky; while this is no doubt a stylistic choice, the visual ugliness may well prove a barrier to some viewers.  Which is a pity because, in its own idiosyncratic way, the film really does have something important to say.  As experimenta goes, Look Closely at the Mountains is one of the more accessible examples, and makes for a good starting point for those yet to become acquainted with such fare.  It screens alongside The Sun Quartet and Optimism at the London Film Festival on the 14th of October.

Darren Arnold

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Ernest & Célestine: The Blizzard (J. Roger/J. Chheng, 2016)

The feature film Ernest & Célestine was released in 2012 to huge acclaim, and its momentum continued all the way to the 2014 Oscars where it eventually (and predictably) lost out to Disney juggernaut Frozen.  Adapted from the well-loved series of books by Belgian writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, the film's feet were planted firmly in the gentle source material, with little of the riotous, anarchic spirit of co-directors Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier's earlier A Town Called Panic in evidence.

The Blizzard arrives as one of 26 episodes included in television series Ernest & Célestine: The Collection.  Each instalment is 13 minutes long and the show, like the feature film, is co-produced by Belgian broadcaster RTBF.  The bite-sized nature of the episodes means that they are even more suited to very young viewers than the feature film was, and the benign, soothing content is a good fit for the form.

With temperatures dropping and a blizzard raging, the bears are thinking about hibernating.  Well, all bears except Ernest, who feels that these soft city bears can't handle a bit of chilly weather.  Célestine the mouse, however, knows how important it is for a bear to have a full stomach before going into hibernation, and sets about making her grumpy friend some cookies.  Unfortunately, there's no flour in the cupboards, so Célestine braves the cold in search of the missing ingredient.

The standard of animation here is pretty much the same as that found in the film, which is not always the case when an animated feature gets a TV spin-off.  If anything, you could say that the quality of the animation is deserving of a slightly livelier story, as the actual tale is rather low-key.  But to say that would be to largely miss the point of who this is aimed at; appropriately enough, it screens (on the 20th of October) as part of the London Film Festival's Animated Shorts for Younger Audiences.

Darren Arnold

Image: Folivari