Thursday, 5 March 2009

Raoul Servais "Papillons de Nuit"

Born in 1928 and the founder of Europe’s first university department for animation, Belgian’s Raoul Servais, is one of the greats of world animation. His last major work Papillons de Nuit (1998) is the subject of today’s post. It is an enigmatic piece dedicated to Raoul’s fellow countryman, the surrealist painter Paul Delvaux - the image is of his Trains du Soir, to which there is reference, amongst many, in the movie. The nocturnal action takes place in a railway waiting room in which are discovered various petrified figures that are brought to life by the arrival of a beautiful blue butterfly. At first their movements are rigid, the fall of a soldier/conductor's baton, the pointers on the clock, a twist of the head from one of the women who sit, their breasts exposed, seemingly as solid as porcelain. Gradually there is more flexibility until, enticing their inner selves from the mirror, the women walz to music, the visual qualities suddenly transformed from carefully inked, sombre figures to watercolour, impressionistic forms. The arrival from a train of a young butterfly hunter ends the spell, the creature captured and added to the collection, its light dying and with it the activity its presence has generated. Interestingly the lepidopterologist was created by a labour intensive technique the director refers to as servaisgraphy in which live action is transposed on to cellophane, coloured or otherwise worked on, then filmed again. Papillons de Nuit is a moving if melancholic work, clearly illuminating for those who know Delvaux, but also for a wider audience. Railway waiting rooms have that curious air of unreality, staging posts, transitory; here the atmosphere, cruelty, and repressed emotions of a classic movie will, like the best surrealist art, unsettle and hint at life's possibilities. The movie is quite wonderfully drawn. There is a DVD collection of Raoul's animations available from a French supplier, Raoul Servais: All Short Films Collection.

1 comment:

Tami said...