France, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Guillaume Gouix, Anne Le Ny, Bernadette Lafont, Helene Vincent.
Directed by Sylvain Chomet.
This film was written and directed by the director of The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist, Sylvain Chomet. While it is a live-action film, some of the characters have touches of caricature and similarities to animated creatures – and there are some fantasy creatures who appear towards the end during a music recital, frogs and animals playing musical instruments.
The film opens with a John Travolta walk along the street by a wrestler, Attila Marcel, greeted by friends while his wife coos over their baby expecting it to say its first word, Papa. Attila screams – and the film moves to the future where the boy, Paul, age 33, does not speak. It appears his parents have been killed in an accident.
He is precociously musical, playing the piano, accompanying the two aunts who have brought him up at their dance instruction classes.
In the apartment block is an unusual woman, Madame Proust who has powers over people, putting them in a trance with her vegetables and teas, whereby they go back into their past and remember – which she does for Paul, who gradually remembers his parents, including happy days at the seaside with some musical numbers staged, but then a memory of a wrestling match between his mother and father, quite choreographed which means that his father was not brutal to his wife but that this was part of their act. This is a great relief for Paul who goes on to a musical recital, goes into something of a blend of fantasy and trance and his performance is a tour-de-force.
He falls in love with a Chinese cellist and at the end, they have a baby, eager for it to say its first word – which Paul pronounces, Papa.
1. The story of an unusual young man, his background, parents, aunts looking after him, the impact of his parents’ death, not speaking, musical talent?
2. The work of the director, his animation films, the characters and some of the action in this film similar to animation? And some animation fantasy sequences – especially the frogs in the orchestra?
3. The French city, the streets and markets, apartments, interiors? At the beach? At the music competition?
4. The importance of music, Paul playing the piano, the sisters and their dance classes and his accompanying them, the records, his tour-de-force at the recital?
5. The opening, Attila walking down the street like John Travolta, the people he passed, friends? His wife, cooing at the baby, wanting him to speak, the husband turning and shouting?
6. Paul, 33, his life with his aunts, his room, the shower sequences, dressing up, his going out, his playing the piano for his aunts, the cakes and his eating them? Planning for the competition?
7. His aunts, seen when young, growing older together, caring for Paul, concern, the meals? Their dance studio and the range of clients?
8. The blind man, dropping the record, Paul taking it into his apartment, the encounter with Madame Proust, her interior garden, her curiosity, the tea, Paul going into a trance? Her inviting him back, the sessions, her wanting him to rediscover his past, getting the key from him and her searching his room, the photos of his mother, the father torn out? The trances, induced memories? Her other clients including the blind man, the doctor who was a vet?
9. Paul, the effect of the memories, discovering more about his parents, antagonism towards his father, the sequences of the beach – and the musical numbers? The wrestling match, the choreography, his father, seeming brutality, his mother’s response – and the fact that it was all stylised? His satisfaction in knowing his father better?
10. Paul, Madame Proust, giving him the vegetables, his aunts and their concern about his health, going to the doctor who was the vet, the puzzle about the vegetables? Going out to the restaurant with friends and their enjoying the broader meal? Going on holidays? Comment about the Chinese, the man with the Chinese daughter? Her friendship with Paul, playing the cello with him?
11. Madame, with the doctor, her helping him, her cancer? Her playing in the park, the ukulele? The condemned tree, the cross on the tree, on her forehead? Her disappearance? The return, the sisters attacking her, her wig, the cancer? Her effect on Paul?
12. The buildup to the concert, the head of the jury coming to visit and his applause, dressing up, the performance, his being distracted, Madame absent, imagining the frogs, the intensity of his playing, pause, standing ovation?
13. The word, papa – and Paul actually saying it?