BELLE & SEBASTIAN
The wartime experiences shared by Sebastian (Félix Bossuet), a lonely child, and Belle, a wild dog found roaming the French Alps. Despite repeated warnings from the villagers, Sebastian forges an unshakeable friendship with Belle. Their adventures see them travelling through the mountains, evading Nazis and aiding brave Dr. Guillaume (Dimitri Storoge) as he helps Jewish refugees escape to Switzerland.
Review by Louise Keller:
When you see the keyart images of a young boy with a beautiful white dog at his side, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a lightweight family adventure. The elements of Nicolas Vanier's enchanting film however, are far richer and more meaningful, with its themes of belonging, nurturing and heroism in war-torn Europe. Based on characters from a French TV series in the late 60s created by Cecile Aubry, the simplicity of the screenplay allows the complexity of all the elements to evolve naturally, delivering a wonderful, uplifting experience in which our faith in mankind is restored. Of course, the winning combination of boy and dog provides its own charm and the film's heart in this multi-layered tale set in the stunning French Alps.
When the film begins - high in the Alps, it quickly becomes clear that risk-taking is part of everyday life. It is rugged country where only eagles dare. A female deer has been shot and Sebastian (Felix Bossuet), a bright, cooperative child is lowered down a cliff face by his surrogate grandfather Cesar (Tcheky Karyo) to rescue the orphaned baby deer. This preservation and nurturing of life is one of the film's themes; the baby deer is later placed on the teat of one of Cesar's sheep. We slowly get a picture of life in this picturesque mountain town on the Swiss border, with Nazis placing their demands and keeping a close watch on all the locals, in a bid to discover who is helping Jewish fugitives make safe passage through the mountains.
The all-important bonding between Sebastian and the unkempt wild dog that is suspected of killing the local sheep, is the story's crucial element. It is impossible not to fall in love with six year old Sebastian (Bossuet in his first film role), with his gamin good looks and boyish effervescence. It's a delightful, naturalistic performance. The scenes in which he talks to the dog - who he calls Belle - explaining how she must avoid the traps set by the locals, are most appealing. We get the feeling that Belle is his only real friend - he takes no time at all to confide in the dog that Cesar is not really his grandfather, although he points out that in the scheme of things, it doesn't really make any difference. It is Sebastian's absent mother, who is mostly in his thoughts and the subject of many questions.
The scene when Cesar tells Sebastian the truth about his mother is one of the film's most poignant. I was also moved when Belle is injured and Sebastian works out a way to get help. Other special moments include the sequence in which boy and dog play in the snow - the beauty of the wintry landscape breathtaking with its snow-drenched fir trees, crystal clear mountain streams and clear blue sky. The plaintive lyrics of a melodic song echoes in our ears all the while.
There is tension too, as the Nazis place their demands and the plight of the fugitives is at risk. Surprisingly, it is the unpredictability of nature that surprise everyone: the thrilling scenes when the mountain rumbles and the ice tumbles.
Belle and Sebastian is a charming story and one with scale. It's a hero's journey - the hero is a little boy with the face of angel. His helper is a long-haired white dog with a pensive look who wears a badge of loyalty. Their journey together is inspiring. You may need a tissue.
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BELLE & SEBASTIAN (tba)
CAST: Félix Bossuet, Tchéky Karyo, Margaux Châtelier, Dimitri Storoge, Andreas Pietschmann, Urbain Cancelier
PRODUCER: Frédéric Brillion, Gilles Legrand, Clément Miserez, Matthieu Warter
DIRECTOR: Nicolas Vanier
SCRIPT: Juliette Sales, Fabien Suarez, Nicolas Vanier (original characters, 1965 TV series Cécile Aubry)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Guichard
EDITOR: Stéphanie Pedelacq
MUSIC: Armand Amar
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sebastian Birchler
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 3, 2014