June 28, 2017

Louise en Hiver – charmingly drawn but narratively-undercooked animation at the Rome Film Festival

Animators are the truest auteurs of the film world. In complete control, they can bring their personal visions direct to the screen. Their ideas do not have to be filtered through other people and appear in front of us undiluted. This is not always good. 

Louise en Hiver is the brainchild of animator Jean-François Laguionie. It’s a gentle animation of abundant pastel colours, given the appearance of having been dashed out in watercolours and chalk. The backgrounds betray – or imitate – the stipples of toothed paper and give the film an interesting visual. For the first few scenes the style is charming, but unfortunately the unremitting flatness of the animation and light hues of the images become tedious over the 75 minutes of the film.

The premise is pleasantly ludicrous. An old lady named Louise has spent the summer season at Biligen, a seaside resort of the Deauville variety. She sits on the beach and complains about the kids and families that disturb her peace. Then she heads off to the railway station for the last train of the season and misses it. It transpires that it is not just the tourists who have left the town, but everyone.

Louise thinks she will be alone until the weekend. But no one returns at the weekend. It’s as though there was a Tsunami warning that Louise alone hasn’t heard. She’s left in the town – so that’s hundreds of houses and one old lady. For some reason she ignores all these empty houses and builds a shack on the beach.

Flashbacks take us back into her childhood, where the animator has created a delightful juvenile incarnation of the old woman. She larks around – in her childhood and old age – until a more serious and unexpected tone intervenes. We are suddenly confronted with questions. Why has Louise lost her memory of the past? Does it concern things she witnessed? It’s hard to say, but the build up to this point and the sudden appearance of these questions makes it challenging to care either way.

For style and individuality Louise en Hiver deserves top marks. But the inconsistent tone, super slow development and lack of plot are issues. There is also too little variation in voices, the film being almost entirely a voice over by Louise (voiced by Dominique Frot). Unfortunately the narrative does not hold interest enough, but hardcore animation fans will relish Laguionie’s unique approach.

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