'Louise by the Shore' ('Louise en hiver'): Annecy Review

Courtesy of Annecy Film Festival
Slow and steady wins the race in this minimalist tale of abandon.

French animator Jean-Francois Laguionie ('The Painting') unveiled his latest feature at Annecy.

An endearing and original take on the desert island genre, Louise by the Shore (Louise en hiver) follows a septuagenarian castaway stranded in a seaside French town for the winter, where she becomes her very own Robinson Crusoe and gets the most out of the desolate surroundings. Directed with hand-drawn affection by Jean-Francois Laguionie, whose critically praised The Painting was released in 2013, this slow-burn short feature is not exactly easy fodder for cartoon lovers, but could please viewers who want more out of an animation film than just action-packed gags.

Premiering at the Annecy International Animation Festival, Louise will likely draw comparisons to Michael Dudok de Wit’s fest opener The Red Turtle, another unique 2D tale of Crusoe-esque abandon that was also made by a veteran filmmaker in his 70’s. But whereas de Wit’s movie used a stunning tropical setting to tell a new kind of creation myth, Laguionie’s more dark and probing character study shows an elderly woman reflecting on her difficult life while living in carefree, human-free bliss.

It’s summertime in the fictive city of Biligen-sur-mer, and quiet retiree Louise (voiced by Dominique Frot) is sitting on the beach, watching children kicking up sand and enjoying their annual holiday. Taking notes in her diary, she recalls the time last winter when the town was all but empty and, after missing the final train out, she found herself stuck as a storm nearly washed things away and left her entirely alone.

Instead of being rescued by a helicopter (one is occasionally seen flying by), Louise decides to stay around and lead a simple existence by the shore, building a makeshift home out of a lifeguard post and suriving off oysters, shrimp and other things she pulls from the water. She even encounters her very own Friday in the form of a dog—and a talking one at that—who accompanies her on daily walks and forages in the surrounding cliffs.

While that’s not exactly enough to build a story upon, and the film does suffer at times from such minimal plotting, Laguionie weaves those scenes into other ones that flashback to Louise’s childhood, with memories of postwar France, first loves and parental cruelty arriving like waves slowly breaking against the rocks. Other moments, including a dream sequence straight out of a Magritte painting, lend a surreal touch to a tale that underlines one woman’s sturdy and witty resilience in the face of adversity.

Filled with pastel colors and realistically rendered backgrounds, the compositions in Louise recall the work of French illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé, depicting a barren world brought to life by its lead character, who finds much to love in the windswept hills, dunes and junkyards where she’s left to wander and contemplate her fate. If not always convincing on the narrative front, Louise shows how a little can sometimes go a long way, while proving the cliché that wisdom indeed comes with old age.

Production companies: JPL Films, Unite Centrale
Cast: Dominique Frot
Director, screenwriter: Jean-Francois Laguionie
Producers: Jean-Pierre Lemouland, Galile Marion-Gauvin
Art direction: Lionel Chauvin
Editor: Kara Blake
Composers: Pascal Le Pennec, Pierre Kellner
Animation director: Johanna Bessiere
Compositing: Matthieu Tremblay
Venue: Annecy International Animation Festival
Sales: Films Distribution

In French
75 minutes

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