Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Joe Bendel on Louise by the Shore which plays Saturday at Animation First

The beaches of Normandy and Brittany are still regularly invaded by armies of tourists, who also retreat with similar clockwork precision. A seventy-something vacationer will liken herself to Robinson Crusoe when she misses the last train out of the seasonal seaside town. Yet, her months of solitude will not be such a hardship in Jean-François Laguionie’s remarkably graceful animated feature Louise by the Shore, which releases today on DVD from First Run Features.

Due to a malfunctioning clock, Louise misses the last train out of town. The town is now completely deserted and effectively cut off from the outside world by a freak storm. Despite her initial concerns, she soon finds the sea will provide sustenance and a small garden plot will nicely augment her diet. Fashioning the lifeguard stand into a makeshift hunt and using the luxury hotel’s outdoor showers, she lives rather pleasantly on the beach. She even finds companionship when she meets Pepper, a stray mutt, who sometimes has the power of speech.

Shore is a deceptively simple, but emotionally complex film about a woman of advanced years re-learning how to live in concert with nature and finally coming to terms with painful memories from her childhood. It is not about slapstick gags or catchy tunes (although Pierre Kellner’s piano compositions and Pascal Le Pennec’s orchestral score are arrestingly beautiful). Instead it is a memory play of sorts and an exploration of Madame Louise’s insecurities and unresolved issues. Plus, there is a dog you’d love to scratch behind the ears.

Laguionie is probably best known for the visually distinctive GKIDS release, The Painting, but Shore has an even more sophisticated look. Using a pastel color palate, his hand-drawn animation deliberately evokes the look of water-color painting and urbane French illustrators. It is all quite beautiful, but Laguionie’s style also potently evokes the feeling one gets from being in a familiar place at a time that completely changes its vibe, like visiting an old school yard after graduation.

Shore is a mature and refined work, but Laguionie employs quite the light touch. We are never pummeled with big melodramatic takeaways. Instead, he inspires wistful sighs and wry smiles. This is a perfect an example of animation as a high art form. Very highly recommended, Louise by the Shore plays Saturday at FAIF's Animation First Festival. For information and tickets to the screening go here.

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