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29 August 2020
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Born in Paris on 13th July 1929, René Laloux was an animator whose extraordinarily fertile imagination fuelled a small but unique body of work that still attracts the attention of science-fiction and animation cinema fans worldwide.
Laloux’s first experiences with film came as a direct result of gaining employment at La Borde Psychiatric Clinic in Cour-Cheverney in the late fifties. This progressive clinic operated an open doors policy and the patients were actively encouraged to become involved in various the therapeutic pursuits on offer. One of these was a popular painting class run by Laloux in a converted greenhouse. Enthused by the success of the classes and Inspired by puppeteer Yves Joly, (with whom he once worked), Laloux introduced the group to shadow puppetry and sourced a 16mm film camera. The resulting short Tic-Tac (1957) is a haunting gem, made over the course of a year and scripted and edited by Laloux and the patients. Next, the group would experiment with colour film, using fragments of tinted glass and sheets of tracing paper to create the kaleidoscopic Les Achalunés, (1958). Meanwhile, Tic-Tac was bought and broadcast on primetime television and Laloux seized the opportunity to secure backing for another production. Graduating to 35mm film, the group produced Les Dents du singe, (1960), a striking stop-motion animation using cut-out figures to tell the story of an evil dentist who steals teeth and the mysterious monkey magician who stops him. It was through the success of this film that Laloux would be introduced to well known satirical cartoonist/graphic artist Roland Topor.
“In my opinion, he’s the greatest illustrator in France, if not the world. He’s a poet.”
- René Laloux on Roland Topor
Having left the clinic to pursue a career in animation, Laloux’s next project was Les Temps Mort, (1964), on which he would collaborate with Topor. Featuring documentary footage of subjects ranging from war to bull–fighting intercut with memorable heavy ink artwork by Topor, this short, powerful black and white statement on the dark side of humanity was the start of a of an artistic partnership between Laloux and Topor that would last for almost a decade. Together they would deliver the short Les Escargots (1965), the surreal tale of a struggling farmer whose tears of woe miraculously cure his failing crop, only for the outsize vegetables to create an army of giant marauding snails; and Laloux’s masterpiece, landmark science-fiction animation feature, La Planète Sauvage, (1973).
“It’s sort of a hymn to education. Above all it’s an epic – a surrealist western.”
- René Laloux on La Planète Sauvage
The huge success of La Planète Sauvage led to Laloux opening up his own animation studio in Angers. There, he started developing a ten-part animated series with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, founder of famous French magazine Métal Hurlant, based on the writing of Stefan Wul, whose work had also provided the basis for La Planète Sauvage. Les Piéges du futur, was intended to enable Laloux to work with a string of up and coming young Métal Hurlant talents, with each episode to feature a different designer chosen from their ranks. The first, Les Maîtres du Temps, (1985), saw him paired with none other than Jean Giraud, alias Moebius, the highly influential artist/designer whose work also graced several major live-action science-fiction films of the period.
“To collaborate with René was for me a great joy because he gave to me the chance to do something I’d been waiting for for so long, and allowed me to cross the wall separating comics and animation.”
- Jean Giraud on René Laloux
In the early stages of production, a decision was taken to abandon the rest of the proposed television series and focus on turning Les Maîtres du Temps into a feature for theatrical release. However, this meant that the once sufficient budget was now woefully inadequate. Corners were cut, and sadly, the animation suffered, leaving Laloux and Giraud dissatisfied with the finished product. However, their combined talents proved to be an attractive proposition to French audiences, and the film became an enormous domestic success.
“René is an artist outside of time. He’s neither modern nor old-fashioned, nor from the past, nor from the future. He’s an entity, a pixie, a nearly invisible magician who is able, if one says the magic word, to supply abundance and absolute beauty. René’s destiny is to evolve inside of the zones where miracles are possible.”
- Jean Giraud on René Laloux
Returning to the shorter format for his next venture, Laloux enlisted the help of Phillippe Caza, another superb artist associated with Métal Hurlant. This was the start of an important artistic relationship for Laloux, he and Caza collaborating on several films, including Comment Wang-Fô fut sauvé, (1987), an adaptation of a short story set in medieval China by Marguerite Yourcenar; Laloux’s final feature, the magnificent Gandahar, (1988), and his last project of all, dream-like short La Prisonnière, (1988), a brief, beautiful tale of two children who travel to a city where silence is golden.
“René Laloux is... sort of a chef d’orchestre figuring out how to get the best out of his collaborators, in order to recast it into a work that is his own, that carries his print. The great miracle is, in any event, succeeding in creating that unity.”
- Philippe Caza on René Laloux
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