The subjects of a painting come to life and search for the man who created them in Jean-François Laguionie’s Le Tableau, a marvellous French animation unafraid of broaching big ideas with a potentially pre-teen audience.
The world of The Painting is a world divided. In an extravagant castle live the Alldunns: figures completely drawn, who in the wake of The Painter’s disappearance have declared themselves the naturally superior class. In the gardens beneath the castle live the Halfies: figures who are only partially coloured, barred from the castle walls, and treated with disdain by their self-appointed social betters. Finally, in the dark woods near the borders of the frame live the Sketchies: rough charcoal outlines who are hunted by the Alldunns for sport.
The narrator of our story is Lola, an intrepid Halfie whose best friend Claire loves – and is loved by –an idealistic Alldunn named Roma. But when their romance is discovered, the lovers are separated, and Roma, as well as Lola and an unlucky Sketchie named Quill, are driven to the outskirts of the painting. Convinced that the only way to restore harmony is to locate their wayward creator, the unlikely trio decide to venture outside the frame of their world, into the unknown spaces beyond.
Certainly in recent years, France has been at the head of the pack when it comes to an international alternative to more mainstream Hollywood cartoons; films such as The Triplett’s of Bellville, Persepolis and The Illusionist have all made big impressions on English speaking audiences. While Laguionie’s other films – Gwen, The Island of Black Mór, A Monkey’s Tale – have not experienced the same level of exposure as those titles, if the imagination on display Le Tableau is any indication, they may be well worth tracking down.
At first, Lola, Roma and Quill travel through other paintings, starting with a battle scene, in which two armies fight endlessly against each other, neither side gaining any ground. Then, a gold and orange hued Venice, where our heroes dance through Carnival and do battle with a mysterious merchant of death. The colours, both in these scenes and throughout the film, are wonderfully vibrant, and although it can be distracting the way the digitally animated figures stand out against their more static two-dimensional backgrounds, there’s no denying the inventiveness of the films images, nor their remarkable beauty.
Leaving lands of oil and canvas entirely, the trio soon begin to journey across the floor of The Painter’s abandoned studio, engaging in philosophical discussions with his other works while attempting to find clues to his whereabouts. A nude painting of a voluptuous former lover remembers him fondly, but a curmudgeonous self-portrait, forced to wear a perpetual scowl and share emotions that aren’t his own, paints a far less generous picture.
As the film progresses, its characters are forced to make a difficult choice: do they continue to search for a God who has abandoned them, or take control of their fates for themselves. The script’s examination of life’s big questions may be at times a little explicit for grown-up viewers, but the organic manner in which it frames them makes it an excellent introduction for kids. Meanwhile, themes about accepting diversity, and choosing for yourself the kind person you want to be, are delivered with a genuineness that has been recently lacking in more commercially minded animated affairs.
Le Tableau was reviewed as part of our coverage of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival. For more MIFF reviews, click here.