The Most Precious of Cargoes (2024)

May 26th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Michel Hazanavicius Cast: Dominique Blanc, Gregory Gadebois, Denis Podalydes, Jean-Louis Trintignant | Animation, 71′ hour 21 minutes

To be considered ‘de nos jours’ every film festival must now include a film about trans people, sex workers, immigration, racism and the Holocaust – so The Most Precious of Cargoes was this year’s Palme d’Or hopeful on that theme

French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, of Lithuanian heritage, rose to the international stage with his Oscar-winning film The Artist (2011) and thence to Redoubtable (2017) and this year’s Cannes Film Festival with this painterly wartime animation. Adapted from the book by Jean-Claude Grumberg The Most Precious of Cargoes tells the story of a Jewish baby who survives against the odds.

Narrated by the late French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and voiced by a sterling French cast this appealing fable turns on a miracle with universal appeal: a father throws his baby daughter from the window of their slow-moving Auschwitz-bound train in the hope of a better future, the deep snow cushioning her landing.

In so many ways a holocaust of sorts is still unfolding on all over the world today. And the film once again touches on the ongoing debate about the extent we are all prepared to go to protect and further our own lives and interests for the benefit (as in this case) or at the expense of others.

Fortune shines on this little girl who becomes the pride and joy of a poor childless woodcutter and her burly husband deep in a snowbound forrest somewhere in East Europe during the 1940s. The film works on two levels: a simple story that ripples out into deeper territory, much in common with the Ghibli tradition which this year’s 77th Cannes Film Festival tributes. A cartoon format and childlike appeal has nevertheless fast-reaching implications, not least making kids aware of the horrors of displacement and the dangers that lie on their path ahead. This child is given a chance in life, and the woodcutter also gets an opportunity to fulfil her own motherly wishes and at the same time protect her living bundle from the authorities out to exterminate Jews. Meanwhile the girl’s family fades away into the background, supposedly dying in the gas chambers, with only the father reappearing, in the final act, as a ghost of his former self. The ending is enigmatic but actually offers hope for the future in a rather lovely finale.

Aesthetically the film is beautifully realised in softly glowing water-colours, each frame flowing into an often harrowing Holocaust adventure. But The Most Precious of Cargoes also tends on the didactic often sentimental side with a narrative that starts off with promise but doesn’t follow through with the same fluidity of its visual style. Despite these narrative flaws this is certainly a film for kids as well as adults, and a welcome a valuable addition to the Holocaust sub-genre. @MeredithTaylor






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