In French animation cinema, few directors can claim to be as well known as their films. This is the case of Michel Ocelot, star of the big screen since the popular success of the adventures of Kirikou and the witch in 1998.
The patriarch of cinema, 78, is one of the stars of the 2022 edition of the International Animation Film Festival. He is doubly honored with a Crystal of Honor awarded to him for his entire career and presents his latest film The Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princesswhich will be released in France on October 19.
We immediately recognize Ocelot’s touch in this set of three short films, stories of princes and princesses, which successively explore the Egypt of the black Pharaohs, the Auvergne of the Middle Ages and Turkey such as the orientalist imagination. 18th century Westerner imagined it.
A cosmopolitanism that has always been assumed by Ocelot, who spent childhood years in Guinea, where he “learned to read and write”. Does his view change as debates on “cultural appropriation” develop, especially in American animation where one wonders about the legitimacy of telling stories from different cultures?
“It’s all from the United States!”replies the filmmaker, whose hero Kirikou had also caused controversy in this country by his nudity. “To be afraid of everything, to want to be ‘politically correct’ all the time, is to be a constant hypocrite (and) never to tell the truth”he says.
“Traditional tales belong to everyone and, when you read a lot of them, you realize that everyone has copied everyone else. It mixes in an extraordinary way”he adds.
The three little moral fables presented are stories of emancipation and love, which feed on the classic schemas of the tale, with vile kings and queens and brave young warriors. In the first, a young king from northern Sudan goes to war and becomes Pharaoh to win the heart of a queen’s daughter.
“I have been in love with Egypt since sixth grade. I have never stopped loving this physical and sensual beauty”, explains Michel Ocelot who worked with the Louvre museum from a stele engraved with hieroglyphs. The graphics of the episode, with a scenario reduced to a minimum, are inspired by it: “A huge number of artists have worked for the models in my film for 3,000 years, I wasn’t going to put that in the trash.”
Ocelot then plunges into Auvergne, to The handsome savagea shadow theater reminiscent of author and illustrator Tomi Ungerer – a choice also due to financial considerations for a filmmaker who says he had great difficulty raising funding for his work, the National Center for Cinematography refusing him ” for the first time” his help.
In an almost anarchist tone (we will see a gibbet collapsing and setting fire to a courthouse), it is about a lord’s son, a prisoner and the mysterious “Beautiful savage”, who comes to help the weak.
The third tale takes place in Istanbul, as it could be imagined in the 18th century, without concern for historical accuracy, and tells of the meeting between a donut seller and a recluse princess. The colors are shimmering, the gardens lush and the food sweet, against a backdrop of Topkapi Palace enhanced with statues and candelabra: “We do like Mozart doing the ‘Turkish March’, it’s not Turkish at all but who cares!”.
“It’s just for fun, a light thing” born “from a desire for colors”he says about this third moral tale exalting perseverance.