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Sunday, 6 January 2008

Frédéric Back "The Man Who Planted Trees"



Even apart from the similarity in title, The Man Who Planted Trees makes an interesting comparison with yesterday's animation. Frédéric Back also bases his movie on a novel, in this case Jean Giono's 1953 book of the same name. Frédéric also has an outstanding actor narrating the text in Christopher Plummer, whose soft, lyrical voice is well suited to the fable-like, allegory of the shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who plants acorns in a barren land. The use of the narrator is a key here for he is the window through which we meet the shepherd and, even as they both grow older, we share with him his profound feelings of admiration for the simple peasant who transformed his world. The Man Who Planted Trees was the Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Short Film 1988. It is plain to see why. Drawn in sumptuous, pastel shades, the fluidity of the animation is quite awesome. Sheep clamber from their folds, soldiers fight in the trenches of the Great War. The artwork is in the impressionistic style; at first the colours are faint, and blurred, the landscape lacking any fertility. However as the film develops the images flesh out, the landscape become greener, water flows, the colours are warm, rich even, they glow. All this reflects the success Elzéard had planting trees in his 35 years of effort. The film is a remarkable ecological tour de force. A triumph. In real life the French citizens of Provence have a forest to be proud of though, perhaps sadly, Elzéard is a fictional character. I can't think of a director quite like this unless it is Yuri Norstein and I read that Frédéric studied with the great man, learning how to use colour, glass and acetate in his animation studio. A DVD Compilation is available with nine of Frédéric's movies included.

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