Le Roman de
The film is performed exclusively by puppets of animals moved by means of stunning, technically brilliant stop motion animation, and the effect the director achieves by populating his work solely with such puppets is truly bewitching. In fact, Starewicz's animated creations lend the movie a palpable magic which complements his already delightful narrative. Even if either the film's story or the images through which it is told were a failure, the other alone would make Le Roman de Renard an enthralling work.
Fortunately, the director has filled his movie with such wonderful characters that their tales are invariably and joyously captivating. Starewicz has, for example, retained Renard's charmingly dishonest, amoral character. The fox is a disreputable, sly, and self serving rogue, but he is also remarkably entertaining. Renard's story is, consequently, a delight to watch. He tricks his various opponents, causes them discomfort and embarrassment, and even outwits the combined efforts of all the beasts of the lion's kingdom. Rather than learning from his sins, as would the hero of most films, which are generally sadly bowdlerized and unnecessarily didactic, Renard ultimately benefits. He is richly rewarded for his vices.
Such elements make the movie's consistently well realized story endlessly fascinating. The viewer is able to cast aside all his concerns with morality and fair play and enjoy the shameless, clever, amoral tricks and pranks of a thoroughly villainous scoundrel. Given the enduring popularity of tales of successful rogues throughout the world, there is clearly something about such narratives that is appealing. While we are generally displeased to see a person we condemn as immoral succeeding, most, if not all people have, at one time or another, at least dreamt of doing something underhanded and despicable and not suffering the consequences of such an action. Since we sympathize with Renard, who is, after all, a likeable scoundrel, we feel pleasure when he succeeds at doing just what we ourselves often secretly wish we could. He defies conventions. He behaves atrociously. He treats others horribly, and we watch with glee as he does so. By drawing upon wishes and inclinations hidden deep within our hearts and giving them expression, the director is able to delight the viewer with his depictions of Renard's various wrongdoings and allows him to exult in the fox's clever villainy.
Starewicz further enhances his movie's enjoyableness by presenting the viewer with a magical world of quirky loveliness filled with a fantastic array of strange and delightful beings. The various animals are dressed in Renaissance finery and inhabit a peculiar realm that intermixes castles, royal courts, and peasant cottages with the habits and inclinations of the various beasts of the ordinary world. In the course of the film, the director enlivens the narrative with one inventive element after another. He shows us a vision of heaven woven by Renard to deceive the wolf that includes walking wine casks, winged cups that raise themselves to the lips of the blessed, the peaceful departed reposing on clouds supported on shimmering cobwebs, and skies filled with dangling sausages. He depicts for us the animals' church, with its choir of rabbits singing before the icon of their elephant headed deity. He delights us with portrayals of the beasts' celebrations, which include processions, orchestras, and choirs of frogs, dancing rats, singing birds, and more. He rouses us with images of the beasts' army, with its companies of armored boars, trident wielding, tail wiggling goats, asinine halberdiers, and rows of banner bearing rams. The list of such sequences goes on and on, and each is a delicious, intoxicating marvel.
What is more, the creatures populating this wondrous land are all inventively realized and each contributes some special distinction to the movie. The Queen of the Beasts, the lioness, is, apparently, cuckolding her husband with his feline minstrel. The badger is an eloquent, clever attorney and Renard's greatest champion at the royal court. The wolf is greedy, cruel, and stupid. Renard himself is an unscrupulous rogue, loyal to none but his wife and cubs, but is, somehow, an appealing, entertaining character because of this dishonesty and cleverness.
Starewicz's Le Roman de Renard really is a wonderful film.
Review by Keith Allen
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