“Le voyage en Charabie”: Ernest and Célestine back on the big screen

Twelve years after their first foray into the big screenErnest and Célestine, the bear and the mouse first imagined for literature by the Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, are back in a new original adventure intended for toddlers.

French filmmakers Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger, at the controls of this new opus, thus take over the reins of a universe that they master to perfection, after having directed the entire series devoted to the improbable duo. for the France 5 channel, in 2017.

The two directors, freed from the budgetary and time constraints of television, offer a film of great depth, entertaining and funny to perfection, visually sublime and respectful of the softness and sensitivity of Gabrielle Vincent’s line and pen. “All the drawings were made by hand, and you can really feel the emotion and the artistic intention in each image”, underlines Jean-Christophe Roger, met by the To have to in videoconference. “We are part of a desire for slowness, compared to what children are used to seeing on television”, continues Julien Chheng.

In this story imagined especially for the cinema, the grumpy and endearing Ernest and the mischievous and adorable Célestine are forced to return to the country of the former, La Charabie, to have his precious violin, a rare “Stradivariours” repaired. »which can only be saved by the famous luthier Octavius.

Gabrielle Vincent created the character of Ernest from a man she was probably in love with, originally from Eastern Europe. We therefore introduced this aspect into our story.

However, the two acolytes quickly discover that music has been prohibited for several years in Charabie, where only the note do is still permitted; a decision that would not be unrelated to an ongoing dispute between Ernest and his father, the chief justice of the judiciary. Determined to repair this injustice and bring joy back to bear country, the friends, accompanied by accomplices of the resistance and a mysterious masked wise man, will begin an incredible adventure in the name of freedom.

Precision work

To conceive Charabie, of which there is no mention in the original albums, the filmmakers were inspired by real cities in Eastern Europe, from Tbilisi, Georgia, to the valleys of northern Pakistan, passing through the villages established at the foot of the Himalayas. “Gabrielle Vincent created the character of Ernest from a man she was probably in love with, originally from Eastern Europe. We therefore introduced this aspect into our story,” says Julien Chheng.

The work of the filmmakers with the sound material is exceptional to say the least, the music serving both as a symbol, a pretext for humor and emotions and a song of freedom. The composer Vincent Courtois was inspired by the music of the Balkans to oscillate in a high-flying number between uproar and work of art. “We thought very early about the musical aspect of the film, explains Jean-Christophe Roger. As soon as we started cutting, we asked Vincent Courtois to work on his compositions right away. It was essential, since the music is in itself a character, tells the story of sadness, joy, remorse. »

Respect the intelligence of children

The directors also made sure to include, both the story and the images, in continuity with the moral and artistic approach of Gabrielle Vincent, thus creating a world imbued with sweetness, tenderness and calm, in which the happy chaos of childhood. “There’s a tendency in animation to believe that children always have to be stimulated by a ton of sights and sounds. To respect Gabrielle Vincent’s vision, we tried to consider them as a very intelligent audience, capable of feeling all the subtext of the film. The idea was to find the right tone so they wouldn’t get bored. We therefore worked on different levels of reading, so that the story was funny and fascinating, but also raised questions,” underlines Julien Chheng.

Thus, the film tackles with humor and lightness the questions of exile, censorship, dictatorship and human rights. “We show through animation that there are countries in the world where we have no choice but to practice the profession we want, to listen to the music we want and to express ourselves like one wants. The forbidden notes are like symbols of voices extinguished in favor of a single discourse—that of the powerful authorized to express themselves. »

The directors did not take long, from the first screenings of the film, to note that the young spectators made a lucid and intelligent reading of it. “We discover a great dialogue that is created between parents and children. In Charabie, the law always says: “It’s like that, and not otherwise”. It’s a phrase that little ones hear a lot. They understand that the codes that govern their world are designed by adults, and many question this after viewing, ”continues the filmmaker.

“Through the character of Ernest, whose individual and family history is inseparable from the political history of his country, the children also understand that they can act on the feeling of helplessness that inhabits them in the face of conflicts and crises that the world is currently going through. It’s possible to start the change on a small scale when you really want to,” recalls Jean-Christophe Roger.

Ernest and Celestine: The Journey to Charabie

Animated film by Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger. With the voices of Lambert Wilson, Pauline Brunner and Michel Lerousseau. France, 2022, 80 minutes. In theaters December 16.

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“Le voyage en Charabie”: Ernest and Célestine back on the big screen

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