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Friday, February 26, 2010

CRIN-BLANC: LE CHEVAL SAUVAGE / WHITE MANE (1953)


This is the lesser-known mate to Albert Lamorisse’s THE RED BALLOON/’56, the famous boy-and-his-balloon tale. Here, the setting is rural rather than urban; the photography museum-worthy b&w rather than KodaChromatic color; the co-star a wild horse rather than a mischievous balloon; but it’s equally wonderful, possibly the greater achievement. The story is basically the same: a young boy meets a free spirit which he tames and befriends. But he’s attacked by a society that won’t accept this unconventional pair, so the boy has no choice but to fly away toward some undefined NeverLand to find happiness. It’s a child’s tale, and much beloved, but with obvious tragic undertones that are only clearer in this less fanciful rendering. The new Criterion DVD edition does full justice to Lamorisse’s great achievement with a gorgeous, restored visual image and a cleaned-up soundtrack that has Peter Strauss nicely handling the spare narration. Lamorisse shot the film without synch sound and the slightly stylized post-production sound & effects heighten the sense that we’re watching a fable. A good thing, too, since a completely realistic telling would be almost unbearable. The young fisherman is played by the extraordinary Alain Emery, as natural a photographic subject as a tree or a bird or Jean Shrimpton. Lamorisse soon returned to documentaries and died at the age of 48 while shooting in Iran. But not before inventing the board game RISK! Not even Jean Vigo invented a great board game!

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