From the same directorial team that made the insane masterpiece A Town Called Panic, Ernest & Celestine represents a completely different direction, albeit one no less sweet and childlike. With utterly gorgeous yet simple and soft watercolour animation, Ernest & Celestine tells the story of a society of bears and a society of mice, both of whom are told bad stories about each other to stoke fear. We follow two free souls from either side of this divide become best of friends, and the film is utterly heart-warming in its sincerity and humanity, focusing on a anti-xenophobic, anti-racist message that would benefit our children and our adults if it were taken to heart. Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier, in collaboration with Benjamin Renner, are surely some of cinema’s most unsung modern animators and storytellers.
Quite easily one of the funniest, most inventive, most surreal films to come out in recent years. To recount the plot at all would be superfluous, all one needs to know is that there are three characters, Horse, Cowboy, and Indian, and they are made of plastic and they go on adventures. A feature length version of a popular Belgian kids TV series, A Town Called Panic is a berserk, ADHD-addled, sugar-rush of a film which doesn’t let up from its crazy schemes and ridiculous ideas from the first frame to the last. Such a relentless energy might be exhausting were it not for the fact that the film is a mere 75-or-so minutes long, a small, sweet candy-stick of a film in a world of overblown conflicts and overwrought dramas.
With an exceptional lead performance by Matthias Schoenaerts and a unique premise – a film set in the world of the Belgian hormone-dealing mafia, of all things – Bullhead could have been so much better. Unfortunately, writer/director Michaël B. Roskam lacks the grace or the subtlety to make it work. Schoenaerts more or less carries the film on his own back with his wounded, physical portrayal of a man who suffered incredible trauma as a child leading him to grow into a wounded, depressed adult relying on steroids and hormones to validate his masculinity. Unfortunately the over-complicated and largely irrelevant plot distracts from this beguiling central theme, whilst the cold, sterile cinematography and the dull, obvious direction dull much of the film’s impact.