NYICFF 2013: Ernest & Celestine w/ Benjamin Renner

narutaki For some reason, I thought this was an Oscar nominee but it no. Still, after seeing it I indeed think it should have been a nominee, maybe it will be for 2013! Ernest & Celestine is a French/Belgian animation based on the characters from the Belgian book series of the same name. We learned from one of the directors after the film that the screenwriter spun a different tale than that of the books.

The gorgeous animation is filled with life. The film moves seamlessly between whimsical watercolor and graphic flair. It very much feels like an animated storybook which you can fall right into.

Ernest & Celestine is a tale of creativity, mayhem, and friendship. In a world where mice live below the surface and bears rule the outside world, there was a little mouse named Celestine who was a burgeoning artist and wasn’t afraid of bears despite everything she had been taught. Ernest was a lonely musician who just didn’t fit in with bear society. These two lost souls found each other on a fateful night sparking an enduring companionship.

Bears are essentially humans in this story and mice are, well, mice it seems. The mice sneak up to the surface world for one mission only: to collect bear teeth. For some reason, both societies have teeth problems; just accept this. One night after Celestine’s teeth gathering duty goes awry, she is almost eaten by Ernest but convinces him that the sweets shop in town will be more tasty than her.

I must say both Ernest and Celestine do not turn up their noses at crime! Celestine helps Ernest break into the shop then later when he gets caught she helps him escape capture. To repay her, she insists he help her loot the bear’s tooth shop in town. Their Bonnie & Clyde exploits lead them to hiding out in the countryside as a snowstorm hinders the pursuit by the police.

While their wild romps through town are exciting and hilarious. The story really shines as they hibernate in Ernest’s house and discover they are both creative artists. Ernest encouraging Celestine’s painting is touching as we learn how Ernest’s family ridiculed him for his desire to perform on the stage. And the animation took on a life of its own at this point in the story as well. From the dreams turned nightmares they had to Celestine painting the winter, music and watercolor come together in perfect harmony.

Their friendship is tested when the law catches up with them, but they do not break. Their loyalty is heartening as they bridge these two communities and they literally walk through fire. I liked that in the end they didn’t change the entire world or everyone’s thinking but instead planted a kernel of realization in others’ minds.

At the end, Ernest & Celestine began writing a book which was a much embellished account of their actual meeting. Perhaps the book they were working on was a reflection of the actual books on which the film was based. If so, I much prefer this tale because their book is a bit too sweet and gentle seeming.

Benjamin Renner was quite young-looking, and lo and behold he told us about being offered to work on this film (along with Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar) right after a screening of his graduation project! Wow! He went on to discuss how intimidating and time-consuming feature film animation was compared to his minimal experience in short film. He joked that after five years of bears and mice he was desperate to draw anything else! So when he graciously drew in front of the audience, he threw in a frog with Ernest and Celestine for good measure.

Ernest & Celestine was a wonderful opening night feature that set a high bar for the rest of the festival. If you have the chance, you really must see Ernest & Celestine. Trust me.

The short paired with this film was the Oscar-nominated Fresh Guacamole. Surprising, endlessly clever, and chuckle-worthy it definitely deserved its nomination.


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