Tuesday, March 05, 2013

NYICFF ’13: Day of the Crows

He is a real wild child.  His mother is an animal spirit and his father is a mountain man, bordering on a Neanderthal.  His socialization has been lacking, but his world is about to expand in Jean-Christophe Dessaint’s animated feature Day of the Crows (trailer here), which screens during the 2013 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

“Son” is the only name the Gollum-ish looking boy has ever known, but his gruff father does not use it particularly lovingly.  At least his dearly departed mother often consoles him, appearing as a mute deer incarnate.  When disaster strikes, the other woodland spirits encourage the boy to drag his comatose father into the forbidden village for medical assistance.

It seems many in town remember his father, surname Pumpkin (first name Rupert, perhaps?), and none too fondly.  Fortunately, the kindly doctor will not let gossips stand his way of treating a patient.  His young daughter Manon also makes quite the impression on Pumpkin, fils.  Naturally, when old man Pumpkin finally wakes up, he is not happy to be back in civilization.  As soon as he is back on his feet, he drags the boy back to the forest.  Things are back as they were, except Pumpkin, père is even worse than before.

Crows holds the distinction of being the final screen credit of the great Hitchcockian director Claude Chabrol, who gives voice to the good doctor’s warmth and humanity.  Refreshingly old school, the film has an endearing hand-drawn look and a beautiful orchestral score composed by Simon Leclerc.  Is it also wildly sentimental and slightly New Agey?  But, of course.  Still, Amandine Taffin’s screenplay (adapted from the novel by Jean-François Beauchemin) clearly suggests the forest might be all very pleasant to visit, but probably is not the best environment to raise an impressionable child.  In fact, Crows portrays nature as both a force of beauty and danger in equal measure.

With its striking backdrops and the charming work of Chabrol (astute ears will also recognize Jean Reno grunting and bellowing as old Pumpkin), Crows has enough to satisfy most animation fans.  Its themes of forgiveness and compassion are rather touching as well.  At times it appears poised to lambaste the local military garrison (who certainly look French, even if Crows avoids national specifics), but to its credit, the film veers off before getting too didactic. 

There really are crows too, but in case viewers start to wonder, they really do not arrive in force until the third act.  Recommended for viewers young enough to identify with the junior Pumpkin, but old enough to handle intense scenes of natural ferociousness and problematic parenting, Day of the Crows screens this Sunday (3/10) at the Alliance Française as part of this year’s NYICFF.