All words: Al Moore
The Painting (Le Tableau, en francais) is a French animated film in the best vein of Pixar-style storytelling and continental political sensibilities. Before getting too deep into this review, I have to confess the screener copy provided glitched out with about thirty minutes remaining in the film; anything I have to say of substance (presumably, precious little) speaks only to the first few acts. The remaining thirty minutes are, like the best things in life, une mystere.
The film is at once imaginative and beset by tropes. In short, all the characters in the film reside within one (or more!) of The Artist’s paintings, in various states of completion. The finished figures (“Alldones”) become inexplicably racist toward the half-finished (literally, “halfies”) and rough cut figures (“sketchies”), going from hosting exclusive parties to race-murder to adopting the mantle of the Finished Man’s Burden to rule in a few short minutes. The plot is driven by a rogue alldone’s love for a halfie – we dare not speak it’s name – and his attempt to seek out the Painter and implore him to finish his love so they can be together For Real, and maybe to bring back the Sketchie that was lynched at the beginning of the film. The lead alldone, a halfie puckish rogue (who, incidentally, is rendered half-black), and a filthy sketchie set out into the painter’s studio, visiting other of his works, in search for il maestro. Meanwhile, the remaining Alldones in the original painting hatch a racial purity plot.
It bears pointing out The Painting is nominally a children’s movie. Cars, it ain’t.
The film finds its voice in its rendering; each painting has its own distinct style and palette that remain subsumed to a consistency in the film proper. The scenes entrecotes take place Who Framed Roger Rabbit style, which provides a nice accent to the cartoonish visual sensibility of the film at large. Eschewing 3D and silicon wizardry, characters and scenes are rendered with brushstrokes, and in mixed media. The halfie companion’s curls are rendered with a charcoal-like smudge, for example. While decidedly two dimensional, the film is full of texture and light. Together with the musical cues, the film resembles nothing so much as a full-length Fantasia: Deux Milles Treize, or at least it would, if Disney were less gun-shy about rendering breasts and the female pubis.
It’s a shame, then, Le Tableau loses its voice in its voice acting. I can’t speak to the original soundtrack, but the dubbed track for U.S. release is decidedly lacking; it is as if the voice actors neither understand the context, nor the target language, for their lines. There’s no sense of timing in the dialogue, such as it were. As a result, we’re left with a sensation of characters saying things at, not to, each other (and at us, as the film opens with an understanding the fourth wall is not a cherished archetype). It’s reminiscent of low budget Saturday morning children’s cartoons. In a film with such visual and storytelling complexity, the dialogue track was very disappointing, and while I generally prefer sous-titres for foreign films, there’s no reason an animated feature can’t work with good voice work and good translation.
Without seeing the rest of the film, I can’t comment too directly on the story, except to say that there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments when the screener glitched out. Most importantly, I could not begin to predict how the tale ends. The racial (or, more charitably, class) issues are too intense for everybody to get along in the end, or so it would seem. This isn’t a paint-by-numbers kid’s tale, and perhaps that’s the best thing I can say about it. I had to stop in the third act and I wanted to know how things ended: that’s a statement that’s hard to make for most movies, especially children’s stories.