A Film a Week is a weekly column on this blog, run on Sunday for our English-language readers and friends, presenting usually local or European festival films to a wider audience. Every review is directly written and not translated.
April and the Extraordinary World is really something, well, extraordinary. It is an animated feature, a delightful and wild adventure in a crazy, steam punk-themed world based on Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel, directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci and beautifully voiced by pleiad of French actors, including Marion Cotillard, Marc-Andre Grondin and Jean Rochefort. It is unmistakable Tardi’s work, but other influences can also be found, like Tintin, Miyazaki’s work and even live-action science fiction classics like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Let’s start with the world. Imagine that Franco-Prussian war never occurred because Emperor Napoleon III got killed in a scientific experiment, and his son Napoleon IV signed the peace treaty that kept the French Empire and consolidated its place at the center of Europe. That would mean that the 2nd Industrial Revolution that brought us combustion engine and electricity would be postponed and the world would be stuck with steam engines only. But over the span of several decades, the resources like coal and wood became scarce, which led to the energy wars with the League of America for the Canadian forest, poverty and a gray and dusty world. It seams that the only good thing is that there are two Eiffel Towers.
The year is 1931, and the government is hunting the scientists to help with the research. That is, the ones who are not disappearing on their own since the accident. Since the greatest minds are nowhere to be found, the government is left with the mediocre ones. Inspector Pizoni wants to change it by capturing Prosper, nicknamed Pops, his son Paul and daughter-in-law Annette who have been working in secret on the potion of immortality. When Paul and Annette get killed in the chase, their daughter April is left alone in the world, aside the talking cat Darwin, a clear side-effect of the immortality experiments.
Ten years later, April is living in hiding and working on the potion trying to save Darwin’s life. She is still the target of Pizoni who wants to get Pops through her. But the accidental meeting with a thief-turned-police informant Julius sets the new adventure in motion that will the characters and the viewers beyond their wildest dreams. Think of the invention of electricity, robot-rats, steam punk planes, moving houses, intelligent mutated lizards and whatnot.
Every scene has at least one brilliant punchline, a witty comedic turn or a piece of imaginative steam punk technology. Even though the structure is somewhat off, with the introduction being a bit too long and the ending that feels rushed, and the plot doesn’t make too much sense (no more or less than a standard issue animated adventure), but those small gems like bicycle-powered zeppelins, long distance cable cars, the head of the Emperor’s statue converted into living quarters, switches hidden in globe model, re-imagination of steam-powered cars, radio and television are enough to make April and the Extraordinary World a great experience. It’s larger than life story about sustainability, hopes for a better future, beautifully voiced and elegantly hand-drawn with simple lines, it feels so retro and so new at the same time.