Film Pick: La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet)

Film Pick: La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet)

Cecile Pin discusses her film pick of the week, a 1973 French animation film

I chose this week’s film pick for its eerie atmosphere and quite distinct story. France is, after the US and Japan, the third largest animation producer in the world, and this is one of my favourites.

La Planète Sauvage is a weird film. And not in a Terry Gilliamesque, quirky and funny kind of way. Rather, it has this more subtle, David Lynchian, disturbing weirdness that leaves the viewer slightly uncomfortable.

This animated French film, directed by René Laloux, takes place on the planet Ygam. There, gigantic blue aliens called Draags are the common inhabitants, and have created a technologically and spiritually advanced society. As for humans, called Oms in the film (a play on the French for human, “hommes”) – they are reduced to being mere pets for the Draags.

The film begins with the unintentional murder of a mother Om by three Draag children. When they realise that they have indeed killed her by playing with her, they remark: “That’s a shame. We can’t play with her anymore”: right away, the viewer is aware that the film will portray humans as being treated not so differently to the way we treat insects, or small animals. The uncomfortableness begins.

While watching La Planète Sauvage, I couldn’t help but notice the strong similarities it holds with the 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle, La Planète des Singes (Planet of the Apes, famous for its many film adaptations). They both deal with humans being reduced to primal beings, abused and controlled by another, more sophisticated species. I also had the same feeling of slight guilt and uneasiness while reading La Planète des Singes that I had while watching La Planète Sauvage : both are pretty clear in their allegory, which makes us realise how little we respect animals. Both are also French, were released only ten years apart and, of course, have similar titles. I guess it’s possible that Boulle’s novel partly inspired Laloux’s film (though it was primarily inspired by the novel Oms en série (Oms linked together.)

Putting the film’s release date into context can also help us understand its themes better: in 1973, the Cold War is at its peak. La Planète Sauvage’s second half could actually be seen as an allegory for it. It deals with the rebellion of the Oms, who have begun to show the Draags their strength and intelligence. The Draags find themselves suddenly threatened and scared, and so begins a period of mutual destruction between the two species. Thankfully, the ending of the film sees both Oms and Draags realising that their union, and by extension the union of their knowledge and strength, makes for a better, more harmonious society.

La Planète Sauvage’s atmosphere is emphasised by its fine and eerie soundtrack, which was composed by Alain Goraguer (a frequent collaborator with Serge Gainsbourg). It is quite simple and flows nicely during the whole film, using recurring instruments and tunes. I also thought that the cutout animation highlighted the film’s oddness: I guess because we subconsciously make note of how strangely and unnaturally, almost robotically, the characters and images seem to move and flow because of it.  I really appreciated the visuals of the film. They contain an interesting palette of earthy, sober colours that contradict the flashy, blue-coloured Draags. The planet Ygam reminded me of surrealist paintings, especially Max Ernst’s and Salvador Dali’s.

Swans Reflecting Elephants, Dali

I’m not surprised that his film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a very unique film, which I recommend.

And it’s available for free on Vimeo: Quoi d’autre?*

*What Else?

Featured image credit: La Planète Sauvage official poster

Cecile Pin