Avril et le Monde Truqué

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Almost every film made is a film about a character who has a problem that needs to be solved, and the audience are taken on a the journey with them as they try to solve that problem. These films can come in the form of Star Wars, where the greater good serves as the moral compass of the film, battling the evil that tries to take over; a Coen Brothers movie, where morals usually don’t exist and characters are simply trying to get what they want; or a film like Avril et le Monde Truqué (April and the Extraordinary World), a story that shows us an alternate version of a steampunk world, with April at the centre, learning and growing as each revelation about the society she lives in is revealed to her.

Studio Ghibli’s recent retirement from animation is still looming over every animation I watch. I thought no more Ghibli films meant no more hand-drawn, intricate portraits of unique worlds, no more subtle nuances of a character that most producers would find unnecessary, and no more quiet films. Avril et le Monde Truqué is a gentle reminder to the world of animation that this is not true.

Inspired by the style of cartoonist Jarcques Tardi, the alternate steampunk universe – that co-director Christian Desmares describes as ‘a retro-futurist adventure’ – it is easy to feel as though you are immediately part of this universe, and that’s because we see the majority of the film through Avril’s (April’s) eyes. The introduction of the film places audiences in 1870, just a day before the Franco-Prussian war. Avril’s great-grandfather, under the order of Emperor Napoleon III, is trying to create a serum that makes their soldiers invincible. However, the result – at the fault of Napoleon and his soldiers – is an explosion, causing them all to die. The colour palette here is dark and almost dystopian, with the blues and greens standing out as if they are illuminated, and the dystopian atmosphere foreshadowing what is to come. This time-frame ends with an iris transition to the next time-zone, where audiences are informed Einstein and Fermi have gone missing, resulting in no creation of electricity or other technological developments. So, society survives off of burning charcoal/wood, resulting in a war that lasts all the way to a now grown-up Avril in 1941. She is on her own, thinks her parents are dead, and only has a talking cat for company.

This sounds bleak, but thanks to the humour and lovingly drawn animation, this film feels just as comforting as a Studio Ghibli film. While France definitely doesn’t have two Eiffel Towers and trains certainly don’t transport through the air, Avril et le Monde Truqué feels at times as if it is a love letter to Paris. There is a focus on the good of humanity through the morally-confused Julius, a perpetual, unbreakable bond through Avril and her Murakami-style talking cat Darwin, and a parent-child bond that saves their lives and the world. Moreover, with what seems to be a reference to Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle in a scene where Avril’s grandfather’s home gets legs and arms, it is apparent directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci have good reference points, resulting in an animation that makes adults feel like they are genuinely on an adventure with Avril, seeing Paris and the world beneath as she sees it.

While Avril herself is concerned with the serum and helping humanity, – with meta and great missions and adventures – it is clear the film itself uses these great adventures to focus on the smaller, yet just as important, aspects of life, with the final scene of the film encapsulating its magic.

Walter Presents: Deutschland ’83

Since the beginning of this year, Channel 4 have started airing programmes selected by a film buff called Walter (click the link to find out more about him). These programmes are all foreign dramas, ranging from a supposedly innocent woman being Locked Up in a private prison in Spain; a group of Outlaws; and a group of people forming a Resistance in Nazi Germany.

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So far, I have watched three of the many dramas Walter has selected for Channel 4, and since they have all proved better than much of what is on British and American television, I have decided I’m going to try and watch every series he presents. Therefore, over the course of the next few months/year/however long it takes me to get over my procrastination, I’ll be writing short posts on each show I’m watching — most likely after I have finished the series.

A bit of background: I have always loved foreign cinema, be it Spanish fairytales like Pan’s Labyrinth or Italian Neo-Realists like Bicycle Thieves, but I’ve never really watched or had an interest for foreign dramas. My first introduction to the world was probably through the Nordic-Noir adaptation of The Missing by the BBC, until one night I saw a trailer for Walter Presents and was introduced to a new world of television. The first introduction to this world was through Deutschland ’83, which has one of my favourite opening titles sequence ever, and I would say this is the best way to ‘get into’ the free foreign dramas Walter has picked on All 4, mainly due to the quality of the show. 

The German thriller set in 1983 presents a divided Germany through the political and social iconography of the Berlin Wall. Audiences see this divided Germany through the eyes of Jonas Nay’s character Martin, a young officer who wants to serve his country.  As the show progresses, we see that it is not simply Germany that is divided between the East and the West, but the characters too. Nay is divided between doing what he believes is right versus what others believe is right; his girlfriend back at the East is divided between two sets of important secrets; his mother by her health and honesty; along with Nay’s roommate, Alex Edel (played by Ludwig Trepte) divided between what his father wants him to be against who he really is.

In fact, there is not one moment in the show where the Berlin wall is shown on camera as a major plot point or a character in itself (considering the effects the wall had, it certainly would have been very easily to make the Berlin wall a character within the film, much like Gothic directors use houses as characters), apart from some brief library-archived shots on television screens. Instead, Deutschland‘s directors have to create the split through dress codes, iconography and mise-en-scene, and they certainly execute it well:

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"Deutschland!"

L to R, Jonas Nay and Carina Wiese – in the SundanceTV original series “Deutschland 83” – Photo Credit: Laura Deschner

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Note how Annett Schneider (Sonja Gerhardt) and Martin’s mother (Carina N. Wiese) are often shown outside in nature, and usually wearing free flowing, comfortable clothes. To immediately juxtapose this we have both Martin’s rigid uniform as well as his aunt’s neat, blocky dress code, which later on corresponds to her surroundings in the West. From looking at the smaller aspects of Deutschland ’83 – by looking beyond its impressive narrative and characters – you will be able to find micro-elements like the characters’ dress codes corresponding to certain surroundings, and realise how much detail the creators of this programme have put in.