Friday 11 January 2019

Dilili in Paris (Michel Ocelot, 2018)

For many years, director Michel Ocelot has been the go-to guy for sumptious, intelligent animation.  His immaculate feature films always make for a nice alternative for families with younger children, and their soothing ambience is a far cry from the loud and garish cartoons which are so often found in the multiplex.  Ocelot's films carry a most distinctive style, and, while Dilili in Paris is immediately identifiable as being the work of the director, there's quite a stylistic departure in place as his unmistakable 2D characters are placed in front of photographic backgrounds.  This novel approach works remarkably well, with the backgrounds greatly contributing to the wonderful atmosphere created by this engaging, humorous, yet occasionally troubling work.

Set during the Belle Époque, the film sees the Dilili of the title arrive in Paris from New Caledonia.  This young, impeccably mannered Kanak girl cheerfully takes in the sights and sounds of the City of Light, encountering casual racism and a galaxy of famous names as she gets involved in some sleuthing.  The mystery she's trying to solve regards a spate of kidnapping which is occurring in the city; there is a pattern in that all the victims are female, and it must be said that this premise is a dark one for any film, let alone a family one.  Thankfully, Ocelot's deft handling of this potentially very upsetting subject matter ensures that any little ones watching shouldn't find anything too traumatic in what unfolds.  As she attempts to find those responsible, Dilili has a helpful sidekick, Orel, who holds an impressive list of contacts that can only be described as a Who's Who of the Paris of the time.  Through Orel, Dilili encounters the likes of Bernhardt, Pasteur, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin, Satie, Curie and Claudel - and that's by no means an exhaustive list of those who pop up during the course of the film.  You will have noticed that these important historical characters include a number of successful, pioneering women, which turns out to be very relevant once Dilili and Orel discover the thinking behind the crimes.

Dilili in Paris manages to be both a charming, intoxicating walk around Belle Époque Paris and a commentary on some very contemporary issues.  Despite being an animated work, it's one of the most atmospheric recreations of Paris seen on film for some years, and Ocelot brilliantly conjures a city many of us know and an era which remains endlessly fascinating.  While it makes for fine entertainment, the film also possesses huge educational potential, with its countless figures from history providing many jumping-off points for discussions on the important developments which occurred during the French Third Republic; any one of the featured luminaries would make for a substantial school project.  However, first and foremost, and despite its slightly sinister edge (which is nothing unusual for Ocelot), Dilili in Paris is a wonderful slice of escapism from a director who rarely, if ever, lets us down.

Darren Arnold


Tuesday 1 January 2019