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‘Gwen, the Book of Sand’ & ‘The Painting’

Jean-François Laguionie is a French animator, producer, and director who originally was interested in theater until an encounter with legendary French animator Paul Grimault gave him the chance to learn animation techniques.  They became close friends, but rarely worked together (Grimault did produce Laguionie’s first three shorts).  Laguionie made seven shorts, including 1978’s Rowing Across the Atlantic, which won the Palm d’Or for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival and the Best Animated Short Film Cesar Award.  He would go on to make animated features after this.  For this installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be focusing on the two good animated features he made, Gwen, the Book of Sand (his first feature) and The Painting (his fourth and most recent feature).

Co-written and directed by Laguionie, 1985’s Gwen, the Book of Sand centers on a young girl Gwen (Le Livre De Sable) Cartoon Picturenamed Gwen from a nomadic tribe in a post-apocalyptic world who sets out on a journey with an old woman to rescue her kidnapped friend from a mysterious entity called the Makou.  Featuring the voices of Michel Robin, Lorella Di Cicco, Armand Babel, Raymond Jourdan, Said Amadis, Bertrand Bautheac, and Jacques Bourier, this critically acclaimed film was a box office flop in France and has been rarely seen ever since (it would be 14 years before Laguionie was able to make another feature).  In order to make this film, he had to establish a new animation studio in 1979 called “La Fabrique” (“The Factory”).  Laguionie used gouache, a type of paint that’s a cross between watercolor and pastel, to create a work of art that feels like a moving painting.  Among the film’s accolades are the Grand Prix de la Critique Award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

(Unfortunately, I could not locate a trailer for this film.)

Co-written and directed by Laguionie, 2011’s The Painting centers on three characters living in an unfinished painting who set out in search of their painter to find out, among other things, why he left it unfinished.  Featuring the voices of Jessica Monceau, Adrien Larmande, Thierry Jahn, Julien Bouanich, Céline Ronte, Thomas Sagols, Magali Rosenzweig, and Chloé Berthier, this critically acclaimed film was animated in digital 3D during the whole year it was in production.  Laguonie designed every character himself, as well as other designs that paid homage to painters such as Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse.  Each character was modeled in CG before layering the oil painting effect onto them.  The hierarchy of power between the characters was meant to be a metaphor for childhood.  Besides competing in the 2012 New York Children’s International Film Festival and the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the film’s accolades include Best Animated Film nods from the Gijon Film Festival and the Cesar Awards, as well as winning the Adult’s Jury Prize at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival for Best Music.

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