Little Nicholas (2022) Cannes Film Festival 2022

May 24th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Amandine Fredon, Benjamin Massoubre; Voices of Alain Chabat, Laurent Lafitte, Simon Paliu; Graphics by Jean-Jacques Sempé; script by Anne Goscinny, Michel Fessler; France/ Luxembourg 2022, 80 min.

Little Nicholas follows the adventures of a mischievous French boy (in the style of ‘Just William’). The creative child of author René Goscinny (1926-1977) and artist Jean-Jacques Sempé (Lafitte), he first saw the light in 1959 as a cartoon in the pages of the Sud-Quest newspaper. The duo would go on to create over two hundred popular children’s stories, before Goscinny died at 51. Co-written by Goscinny’s daughter Anne and Michel Fessler of March of the Penguins fame, schoolboy Nicholas is brought to life, sharing the death of his co-creator with Sempé.

The name Nicholas actually came from a passing vehicle while the authors where having coffee one day. The first episodes are rather formulaic, with Nicholas’ parents and maternal grandmother fighting over the right to bring up the child. Growing up, Nicholas will soon experience the dissolution of gender stereotypes, and a degree of anarchy at school.

The film work best in the segments involving Nicholas (voiced by Paliu) and Sempé after the death of Goscinny (voiced by Chabat, who directed the adaption of Asterix&Obelix: Mission Cleopatra in 2002) leaving Sempé, once again traumatised. Both artists shared a rotten childhood: Goscinny lost most of his family to the Holocaust while he escaped to Argentina with his parents. Sempé’s father was an alcoholic who abused his son and ruined his childhood. In the dialogue between Nicholas and Sempé it soon becomes clear that the two men created a perfect world through their character to compensate for their own misfortune. “Now René and I will live on through you” tells Sempé the boy. Anne Goscinny adds, “there is no finer way to pay tribute to my father, than to tell his story through the art he cherished the most: animation. The graphic novel was a path to the cinema and more precisely to animation”. The camera mournfully catching Nicholas, always looking at the figures of Asterix and Obelix on Sempé’s desk.

The directors chose two different styles of animation: they were inspired by Sempé’s drawings for the “New Yorker”, using classical cinematographic effects like shadow and light, where fresh primary colours dominate. For Nicholas’ world, which was originally black-and-white in the newspapers, the aesthetic is more washed out and sparse, water colours underlining the lyrical components.

Sometimes over-sentimental, and uneven in structure: the parallel narratives do not always mesh together, but the symbolism is still very persuasive, emotional loss can never be fully reconstructed in any art form. Little Nicholas is a testament to art surviving all. AS

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