Aunt Hilda! Review: The Sense of Ecological Duty (And Beauty)
It is admirable (and commendable) that an animated feature which kids can safely watch can uses as its front a highly prominent (and also contested) matter about genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Even though Aunt Hilda! (Tante Hilda, directed by Jacques-Rémy Girerd and Benoît Chieux) the latest animated feature from French animation studio Folimage, presents the case of GMO as an environmental comic nightmare, the film itself rests more on the overwhelming influence of economic conglomerates to exert their wishes than on the nature of GMO themselves.
It is also a primer on the notion of scientific responsibility, employing an almost Cartesian devotion to the science as the wealth of the human beings. Not so comic and gag-driven, but engaging and entertaining throughout, it presents a rare and amicable portrait of a middle-aged woman in animation as its leading character (even though the title Aunt seems to invoke unnecessary sexist overtones of a spinster aunt).
Apart from her talking with the plants (a pastime and an intuition about the life of the plants soon to be confirmed in the film), Hilda (Sabine Azema) is not the zany person her chainsaw stills suggest.
A botanist herself and a happy helper for her ailing and more nutty parents, Hilda and her inquiring eyes behind her glasses only want for her secret and hidden wish of flowers merging with humans to become true.
Based on her own greenhouse castle, Hilda will soon face the wrath of the wicked and oversized Dolores (Josiane Balasko), a ruthless but savvy capitalist and head of the overpowering Dolo. Dolores imagines herself as a queen bee fed with honey, when all her economic subjects are soon to be fed with the new product Attilem (which looks like a giant version of Asparagus) and its replacement.
Political representation and corruption is on the side of Dolo, while science is split: the young and ambitious Julio (Bernard Bouillon) sides with Dolores, whereas the more absent-minded but conscience-driven Russian scientist Michael Aldashin (Serguei Vladimirov) (and love interest of Hilda) needs a way to counteract the overpowering effects of Attilem.
Hilda comes out more as a failed activist with family guilt issues than a far-fetched defender of ecology. The movie belongs to Dolores, who can present herself as the economic version of the witch in Snow White ; at the same time, Dolores reveals some traumas of her own, especially in the last act of the film.
Ecological themes and global environment issues need to translate to something more cinematic if they are to be less than a polemical tirade. Murakami's When The Wind Blows opted for a silent personal tragedy after a nuclear event; Aunt Hilda develops a family drama to counteract for the overpowering effect that GMOs have on the plot, and it works when all Dolores' mischievous calculations have been left aside and defeated.
Not that complex and suspenseful as Folimage's Oscar-nominated A Cat in Paris (2010), Aunt Hilda! offers instead a marvel of iridescent colors, hand-drawn grainy, disintegrating backgrounds, where flowers are ready to merge with the human nature, and an almost Buddhist sense of flower Nirvana after the catastrophe. In contrast, characters have a fragile bodily posture, ready to be consumed by Attilem products. Serge Besset's score lightens up the master plan of destruction.
Film director Jacques Rémy Girerd tells that hand-drawn animation (aimed by the latest 2D animation software) gives more graphic liberty to investigate its subject-matter.
If Aunt Hilda! did not have a staunch defender of good, old-fashioned botany, it could have easily become one of the most graphically nightmarish environmental films in recent years. As is, it is a feelgood protest of power accumulation and a worthwhile effort of European animation to tackle issues in a kids movie that US studios usually think unfit for this tender demographic group.
Direction:Jacques-Rémy Girerd, Benoît Chieux
Production: FOLIMAGE, MELUSINE PRODUCTION, RHONE-ALPES CINEMA, FRANCE 3 CINEMA
Cast: Sabine Azéma, Josiane Balasko, Sergueï Vladimirov, Gilles Détroit, François Morel, Bruno Lochet, Bernard Bouillon, Christian Taponard, Nathalie Fort, Line Wiblé, Jean-Paul Racodon, Jean-Pierre Yvars, Nicolas Demorand
Screenplay: Jacques-Rémy Girerd, Benoît Chieux, Iouri Tcherenkov
Sound: Loїc Burkhardt, Samuel Sighicelli
Editing: Hervé Guichard
Music: Serge Besset