'A Boat in the Garden' (2024): Annecy Film Review

A Boat in the Garden animation feature still

French auteur Jean-François Laguionie has quietly become the Louis Malle of animation. Without causing too much hullabaloo over a new work of his (unfairly so), he presents in each new animation feature -his favorite mode of animation throughout the recent years- stories that look both simple to tell on the surface and poignantly traumatic underneath.

Things are not different in the latest 2D/3D animation feature of his, the exquisitely told story of an adopted boy and his stepfather in the 50s 'A Boat in the Garden' (Slocum et moi). On the banks of the River Marne, in Northeast France, the 11-year-old François finds his stepfather Pierre (mysteriously called Slocum by his friends) to prepare and build a boat in the garden -with the help of his mother. Pierre is an honest man but not the easiest to deal with; not too much the affection guy (but not grumpy either, mostly stiff), makes the inquisitive François conclude that there are two teams in the house: he and his mother belong to one time, while his mother and father to the second one. Conspicuously, no team involves both François and Pierre.

His mother being pregnant during the war and thought of 'dubious morals', François never has a proper relationship with his biological father (his Xmas vacations with him are a routine never to be portrayed in the film). He watches his hero-to-be, Pierre: we will soon learn (so no big spoiler here) that Pierre wants to construct a replica of a boat by a famous sailor Joshua Slocum, who traveled the world during the last century. Pierre has his idol, while François needs to find his own.

The script (co-written by the usual Laguionie collaborator Anik Le Ray) fleshes out the simple concept (which could have exhausted even a short film) to offer a highly detailed vista of post-war France, that needed something more to hang on than the two ratios of chocolate François receives when standing in line with his mother for his turn. With both flashbacks and the sub-story of the adventures of Joshua Slocum at sea (sea and its harrowing or calm demeanor is always a staple in Laguionie's films), the film leaves time for the ordinary travelogue of building a boat in the garden to unfold -making the film in turn richer in detail and less meditative than the autumnal 'Louise By the Shore' was.

In its 75-minute running time, the film still feels like a wholesome animation feature -even though François' escapades with his girlfriend seem more like a trick to enrich our background view than a necessary subplot in its own right. Yet storyboarded by J.F. Laguionie himself, the film always feels right in its shot sequence; and, in the big picture, it is a coming-of-age adventure story (of acceptance, mostly), with death always lurking in the background (the scene with the body in the river). The 2D/3D film has a bookish/painterly film, reminding at times of 'The Painting' fauvist sequences; yet, most of the time, it adopts light color hues shining in elongated, Modigliani-like faces, ready to accept some shine in their otherwise ordinary and harsh lives.  Like its narrative, the film's design and background never want to impress but rather imprint upon us the feeling of being a kid in the small town -with the world on his feet, yet his father figure occupied by seemingly imperfect projects.

It is the music (by Pascal Le Pennec) that gives the clues of the eternal fight between the ideal and the perfect (a boat in the garden, a father as a role model) and the necessary human imperfection and repetition -a theme which is also central in 'The Painting' as well. Music soars and calms, but is always there to tell of a struggle that the three main characters won't admit.

Laguionie makes humanistic animated adventures. His latest one, 'A Boat in the Garden', is never nostalgic, always inquisitive, solidly presented, and sometimes brilliantly emotive. Can't miss it.

Vassilis Kroustallis

Want to read more free articles like this?


Keep this professional animation journalism effort relevant and updated. Become our patron


Related Articles


Zippy Frames is the premier online animation journal promoting European and Independent Animation animation since 2011

[email protected]

Zippy Frames

Quick Links