Saturday, February 6, 2021

Movie with Abe: Josep

Directed by Aurel
FIAF Animation First Festival

Grandparents tend to tell their grandchildren stories about their lives, sharing a piece of a different time with them, regardless of whether they actually express any interest in hearing it. They may repeat the same tales over and over, especially as memories start to blend and become less clear. Their descendants may find them boring or off-putting initially and come to gain an appreciation for them as time goes on and they grow up, and particularly as they see that someone they have almost known won’t be around forever, desperate for one last chance to hear familiar information or even something new.

An old man, Serge, lies in a hospital bed in his home, where his daughter drops off his grandson, Valentin. Though at first Valentin would rather watch TV, he gradually becomes enthralled by the narrative his unexpectedly lucid grandfather weaves for him. Lengthy flashbacks show him as a young artist serving as a gendarme who is later imprisoned following the Spanish Civil War in a French concentration camp, where he has the opportunity to befriend the famed artist Josep Bartoli, who proves to be a lasting influence on him.

This film marks the feature film debut for director Aurel, best known as a cartoonist for the French newspaper Le Monde. It’s a stirring and creative way to express its protagonist’s life journey and the way in which he interacts with Josep. The impressionist styles utilized add gravity and emphasis to the horrors that Serge experiences, almost more disturbing when drawn and colored than when created with makeup and visual effects. The level of detail employed in the characters’ faces also allows them to be expressive and stoic at the same time.

Art enthusiasts will surely appreciate this prominent spotlight on Josep and the appearance of other figures such as Frida Kahlo throughout the story. All audiences should find some degree of relatability in the way that Serge merges moments together to impart to his grandson, particularly when he objects to the likelihood of something having occurred when Valentin simply repeats back what he had heard directly from him. Running just seventy-one minutes, this beautiful piece of nostalgic animation is a chronicle both of the many effects and consequences of war and the intimacy of family and friendship. Its approach may not be engaging enough for some viewers, but its concept is sensitive, delicate, and fitting for the story of stories it wants to tell.


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