Crystal of honor in Annecy, Michel Ocelot presents his new film there

The Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princess of the creator of Kirikou will be screened on Saturday at the International Animation Film Festival.

Patriarch of animation cinema and father of Kirikou Michel Ocelot judges that “traditional tales belong to everyone”, whatever the origin. He intends to prove it with his latest film, presented in preview at Annecy.

At 78, the author of Kirikouof Princes and Princesses or evenAzure and Asmarwhich received a Crystal of Honor for its career at the International Animation Film Festival, continues to take viewers on a journey with The Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princess (released on October 19, 2022 in France).

We immediately recognize Ocelot’s touch in this set of three short films, stories of princes and princesses, which successively explore the Egypt of the black Pharaohs, the Auvergne of the Middle Ages and Turkey such as the orientalist imagination. 18th century westerne century pictured it. A cosmopolitanism that has always been assumed by Ocelot, who spent childhood years in Guinea, where he “learned to read and write”.

Does his perspective change as the debates on “cultural appropriation”, especially in American animation where one wonders about the legitimacy of telling stories from different cultures? “It’s all from the United States!” replies the filmmaker, whose hero Kirikou had also caused controversy in this country by his nudity. “To be afraid of everything, to want to be ‘politically correct’ all the time, is to be a constant hypocrite (and) never to tell the truth”, he throws. “Traditional tales belong to everyone and, when you read a lot of them, you realize that everyone has copied everyone else. It mixes in an extraordinary way,” he adds.

Emancipation stories

The three little moral fables presented are stories of emancipation and love, which feed on classic storytelling patterns, with vile kings and queens and brave young warriors. In the first, a young king from northern Sudan goes to war and becomes Pharaoh to win the heart of a queen’s daughter. “I’ve been in love with Egypt since sixth grade. I have never ceased to love this physical and sensual beauty,” explains Michel Ocelot who worked with the Louvre museum from a stele engraved with hieroglyphs. The graphics of the episode, with a scenario reduced to a minimum, are inspired by it: “A huge number of artists have worked for the models in my film for 3,000 years, I was not going to put that in the basket”.

Ocelot then plunges into Auvergne, to The handsome savagea shadow theater reminiscent of the author and illustrator Tomi Ungerer – a choice also due to financial considerations for a filmmaker who says he had great difficulty raising funding for his work, the National Center for Cinematography refusing him “for the first time” his help. In an almost anarchist tone (we will see a gibbet collapsing and setting fire to a courthouse), it is about a lord’s son, a prisoner and the mysterious “Beautiful savage”, who comes to help the weak.

The third tale takes place in Istanbul, as it could be imagined in the 18th century.e century, with no concern for historical accuracy, and recounts the encounter between a donut seller and a reclusive princess. The colors are shimmering, the gardens lush and the food sweet, against a backdrop of Topkapi Palace enhanced with statues and candelabra: “We do like Mozart who does the “Turkish March” is not Turkish at all but who cares!”. “It’s just for fun, a light thing” born “from a desire for colors”, he specifies about this third moral tale exalting perseverance.

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