Jun. 25, 2008 - Issue #662: Eamon McGrath Releases the Wild Dogs
Surreal life: Fantastic Planet explores flora, fauna and philosophy
Those drawings are guided by Roland Topor, director René Laloux’s partner in their adaptation of Stefan Wul’s 1957 novel (which garnered a Special Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes film festival). And it’s Topor’s illustrations that make Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage) truly live up to its title. The images tend to be a mix of creatures, drawn with a kind of Renaissance-stylized notion of classical shapes (fans, clam shells; the humans wear toga-style outfits), and surreal fauna.
The film begins with an Om (from the French for “man”), a human brought to Ygam by the Traag race, running with her baby from one of the large pale blue hands of her captors. Like Sisyphus’ rock, she keeps running up a hill only to be rolled back down again by the casual flick of the Traag’s finger. Then she’s hemmed in by oyster-like spears, only to be plucked up by the blue hand (reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s roving, Godlike hand in the Monty Python animation bits) and killed.
The woman’s child is named Terr (from the French for “Earth”), kept as a pet by a Traag girl and, as he grows up, he imbibes their knowledge (engraved in Traags’ memories as they listen to a headset). He escapes, joins a tribe of wild Oms, and they use his knowledge to battle their giant captors, killing one in a scene much like the moment in Swift’s novel when Gulliver is trapped by Lilliputians.
The film offers a patient, clinical approach to this fanciful world, tracking the bizarre forms of life on the planet. The images recall natural history drawings—as if Linnaeus or Audubon had imagined another world’s flora and fauna instead of observing and illustrating ours. And so anthropology meets surrealist art in a film about the coldly intellectual, logical Traags and the wild, passionate, heartfelt Oms. In two scenes just meant for observing, Darwin-like, a fascinating new creature, a two-eyed slug emerges from a rent in the ground and a tri-snouted, accordion-stomached, hippo-like animal licks its hatched young once before suddenly devouring it. Crimson flowers have claw-like thorns. Metallic poplars clank open and shut. A dragon-ish creature flicks out an anteater-like tongue to slurp up Oms. During their out-of-body meditations, Traags’ forms are touched by oily tentacles and are diced up like Dali’s cubed and shelved humans, then they stretch, change colour, and pulsate into fronds and leaves.
As the Traags become more genocidal, the overtones of scientific racism, even Nazism (talk of “efficient measures” and the Oms as vermin), are clear, though the story is not too complex in its pitting of cold reason against wild passion (and the score is sometimes a little inappropriate, with its warbling, spacey ’70s music even accompanying an extermination of Oms). The Oms are tribal and territorial at first, but the knowledge (really, information) that the Adam-like Terr brings them patches up differences. There is an eerie sense of dazed, hypnotic rituals in the film, though, particularly around sex as a sort of entrancing pagan ritual. Wild Oms take a kind of communion before going off into the large vegetation like glowing fireflies to mate, while the Traags float off into a stunned meditation. The film’s penultimate scene, before an abrupt ending, involves a wonderfully strange dance, an unworldly ballet of Greek statues with Traag heads atop them. But then Laloux and Topor’s film itself manages to be both of our world and somehow not, shucking off any influences and finding a weird wonder all its own.
Eight years before Fantastic Planet, in 1965, Laloux collaborated with Topor to make The Snails (Les Escargots) a ten-minute short. Rawer-looking than Fantastic Planet, The Snails has a more obvious B-movie premise—giant snails laying waste to a farm, then a city. The short’s best moment is an inventive sequence where, only able to reap what he sorrows, a ruddy farmer has to keep making himself cry to get his lettuce to sprout up. Another shell-like motif emerges when the snails appear, leaving car and train wrecks in their sluggish wake, while the phallic symbols and anxious view of women (a snail’s stalks pop up, then wave back and forth as a woman strips down to a bustiere before the creature devours her) fairly common to surrealism are more obvious here than in the feature. V
Wed, Jun 27 & Fri, Jun 29 (7 pm)
Thu, Jun 26 & Sat, Jun 28 (9 pm)
Directed by René Laloux
Written by Laloux, Roland Topor,
Showing with The Snails
Metro Cinema, $10
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