Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The King and the Mockingbird

Le Roi et l'oiseau; Animated fantasy, France, 1952/ 1980; D: Paul Grimault, S: Jean Martin, Pascal Mazzotti, Agnès Viala, Renaud Marx, Hubert Deschamps
The kingdom of Takicardia is ruled by king Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI. He is an egoistical, cold and cruel ruler who hates his people. He only likes hunting and statues of himself. When one painter draws his portrait, cross-eyed just like in real life, the king has him executed. He is enchanted by a painting of a shepherdess in his room. One night, the shepherdess and the chimney sweep come to life and exit their paintings. The painting of the king also comes alive and executes the real king, taking his place. He orders his police to capture the fleeing couple. They are rescued by a wacky bird, but are eventually captured. Just as the king wants to marry the shepherdess, the chimney sweep and the bird escape from their prison with lions. The king is blown away by a giant robot. The bird then uses the robot to destroy the empire.

Shining cult classic of animation "The King and the Mockingbird" had a fascinating genesis: director Paul Grimault started working on it way back in '48, but the producer showed the film unfinished in 1952, under the title "The Shepherdess and the Chimney sweep", when it was nominated for a BAFTA as best animated film. Yet Grimault was so dissatisfied with that decision since the film was still unfinished, that they got into an argument and the production collapsed. He finally finished it almost 30 years later and released under the present title. Even today this film is a rarity, but not only because of its limited availability but also because of its superior style, elegant narration, classic animation and wonderful direction that works through subconscious images that remain deep in the viewer's head. For instance, the scene where the shepherdess and the chimney sweep on the paintings on the wall come magically to life one night and exit the king's room, climbing up the chimney after the water from another painting extinguished the fire, is a thoroughbred example of pure poetry.

The final scene of a giant robot's hand releasing a small bird and then crushing the cage is one of the most beautiful, mesmerizing, magical and enchanting images in cinemas, a masterwork of symbolism and execution. The only big pity is the fact that the shepherdess and the chimney sweep are rather thin characters since they were basically just reduced to running away from the king - even though they are suppose to be the main protagonists, they speak very little and we find out very little about them. Still, the story is in the end an allegory about the collapse of totalitarian empires and the triumph of freedom - the bird and the young couple are symbols for anarchy, freedom that destabilizes the rigid society and brings it to collapse. It's one of the very rare animated films that combine both the elements for the children and the adults, going from a gentle fairy tale to a cruel nightmare and back, becoming a film that will change a lot of viewers lives.


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