“Animation makes it possible to talk about hard things with distance”

Amandine Fredon, hello. With Benjamin Massoubre, you are co-director of the film which opened the French film festival in Prague. What does this represent for you, and for your film?

Amandine Fredon | Photo: French Film Festival

“For us, it’s quite incredible to open this festival in Prague. In France, the film was released in mid-October, and we continue to follow the film, to present it to the public, to travel with it, which is really lucky. »

How did the Petit Nicolas project adapted to the big screen come about? Can we come back to the genesis, and where did this idea come from to tell the story of its creators?

“The film is a bit special, in the sense that we mix the sequences of the authors with sequences from Petit Nicolas. Initially, it was Anne Goscinny, René Goscinny’s daughter, who had the idea of ​​mixing archive footage of her father and Jean-Jacques Sempé with animated sequences from Petit Nicolas. When she presented this to the producer, the archival footage was not of good quality, and the producers told her, ‘It would have to be done entirely in animation, it would pay even more tribute to the authors.’ The idea therefore arose from these remarks. »

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Photo: BacFilms

As a director, have you also been part of these archive images, have you drawn from this pool?

“It was Anne Goscinny who co-wrote the screenplay, and who was also with us to give us documents, photos, letters from the two authors whom she knew well. With Benjamin, we watched all the interviews, all the video documents that could exist in order to be able to animate them, draw them, get their reactions. Sometimes, we even used real interview sentences that we put in the film, as they were, to be as faithful as possible to reality. »

I imagine that, like many, you also grew up with Little Nicolas. What did you learn that you didn’t know about the story of Goscinny, about Sempé, perhaps about the genesis of this little character that everyone adored?

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Photo: BacFilms

” I learned a lot of things. I didn’t know they named Le Petit Nicolas after a poster they saw on a bus. But at the time the first name Nicolas was not very common, at least in France. When we immersed ourselves in the interviews and in the biography of the two authors, we also learned that René Goscinny had spent his childhood in Argentina, that he had worked in New York, and that Jean-Jacques Sempé had had trouble breaking through; he absolutely wanted to draw and for him, Paris was the ideal city for artists.

We really wanted to tell all that in the film. With Benjamin, we proposed to Anne to add information on the authors, and we wanted to put everything, because it was very interesting and exciting to see the life they lived. »

Was it difficult for you, as an animator, to adapt the character of Little Nicolas? How did you do it?

“The challenge was a bit complicated, since we have two different universes. It was necessary to graphically differentiate the two universes. We had to succeed in transposing Sempé’s line to the screen and in animation. We were really inspired by the illustrations of the authors, which Jean-Jacques Sempé did for the New Yorker, with a lot of shadows, light work, camera movements, something very cinematic, with elaborate atmospheres, with our artistic director. We asked ourselves a lot of questions: Little Nicolas and the original drawings are drawn very small, in black and white. We said to ourselves that we had to keep this characteristic, not to do close-ups, to keep this miniature side, the Little Nicolas who moves in the shot, with wide, fairly long shots. We tried this compromise, with spots of color appearing gradually. We did a lot of testing to achieve this result. This is how we managed to create these two universes. »

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Photo: BacFilms

How to keep on the other hand the literary touch of Goscinny?

“Goscinny has a pretty incredible sense of humor. Getting to stage all the finesse of his words is not easy. We tried to draw inspiration from him as much as possible, and create moments of humor thanks to his sentences. »

I imagine that the fact that Anne Goscinny was involved also helped to infuse a bit of that spirit?

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Source: BacFilms

“Yes, completely. She writes books, so she’s very used to words, to writing. For us it was important that she was present and sometimes she said to us: ‘No, my father can’t say that sentence, it’s not him’. We offered him to rewrite pieces or paragraphs when we added sequences, and it was good to have him with us. »

Animation cinema has long been, in France in particular, considered a minor genre. This is somewhat the case with comics, moreover, considered to be intended for children. This has obviously changed a bit, but this is less the case in the Czech Republic, where there is a great tradition of animation. Are there creators or Czech films that have marked you in the local animation cinema?

“The culture of puppet film: when you study animation, you are rocked by these films. It’s always quite impressive, there is really a very particular universe. I started making stop-motion movies, with puppets, so it’s exactly that universe. »

Do you see a difference in tradition between French and Czech animation culture?

“In France, there are a lot of drawings, whereas in the Czech Republic, it’s more puppets, wood, materials to animate. This gives a slightly different texture. »

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Source: French Film Festival

Little Nicolas, for once, is a character who is extremely appreciated by the Czechs. How do you explain this success of Petit Nicolas outside of France?

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Source: BacFilms

“The books have been translated into a lot of languages, it’s quite impressive. There are also 222 short stories from Petit Nicolas, which are reprinted regularly, in new editions. It is true that many countries know this little boy and his adventures. There is a French nostalgia, and a childhood nostalgia. Moreover, when the authors wrote it, it reflected a past – already in their time. We asked ourselves in the film whether this would interest children today. By studying the story, we thought that what was strong was the links between the characters: Nicolas with his parents, with his grandmother, with his friends. And it’s those ties that are so strong that whatever the era, it works for all generations and all countries. »

Unfortunately Sempé passed away very recently, last August. Has he seen this movie?

“Yes, he was the first person we showed the film. Already before starting the production, we submitted sets and characters to him so that he could validate them, for us it was important. As soon as we finished the film, we showed him, we showed him bit by bit. I remember the last sequence he saw, he was very moved, and in particular, to see himself as an animated character. For us, it was even more moving. »

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Source: BacFilms

What is the place and what is the role of animated films in our lives as moviegoers?

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Source: French Film Festival

“Animated film is entertainment, but it allows you to tackle difficult, or sometimes tough, subjects. Moreover, in our film we also tackle the problem of the difficult childhood of Jean-Jacques Sempé, or of René Goscinny who lost part of his family in the concentration camps. This allows us to talk about hard things, but at the same time to take some distance. The animated film also tends towards something more adult, and it is a good direction to say that the animated film does not necessarily interest only children, but it can also interest adults, and have and tougher subjects, such as the film Flee, which talks about immigration. The animation allows for a certain emotion that the live-action film couldn’t. »

'Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy?' | Source: French Film Festival

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“Animation makes it possible to talk about hard things with distance”

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