Aunt Hilda! (Tante Hilda!): Film Review

Courtesy of SND
Flower power fights back in this tale of genetically modified madness.

The French animation studio behind the 2012 Oscar-nominated feature “A Cat in Paris” is back with this cautionary cartoon about the dangers of GMOs.

An inventive hand-drawn comedy that pits an ecological militant against the most powerful GMO on the planet, Aunt Hilda! (Tante Hilda!) offers up plenty of raucous animation while warning viewers about the dangers of messing with Mother Nature.

A bit too zany for its own good, yet vibrant and imaginative all the same, this latest offering from French animation studio Folimage (Academy Award nominee A Cat in Paris) was co-directed by Benoit Chieux and Jacques-Remy Girerd -- whose 2003 debut Raining Cats and Frogs went on to gross over a million admissions at the local box office. While Hilda has fared much less well amid a crowded kids market, it could still reach viewers both at home and abroad via various ancillary channels.

In a world not too far removed from ours, a mad Russian scientist, Mikael (voice by Serguei Vladimirov), and his partner, Julio (Bernard Bouillon), are cultivating a genetically modified plant that can both feed and fuel the planet at the same time. When their experiment goes wrong, Mikael flies the coop while Julio decides to inform their company’s madcap boss, Dolores (Josiane Balasko), about the discovery. Soon enough, their powerful Monsanto-like conglomerate is selling the crop across the globe, reaping huge profits while putting human life in grave danger.

Luckily, one woman has so far resisted the temptation of GMOs, living a sheltered existence inside her massive hilltop mansion/greenhouse. Nicknamed Aunt Hilda (Alain Resnais regular Sabine Azema), she’s done all she can to fight off environmental hazards, tearing up fields of produce and meditating in her personalized winter garden, where she communes with the surrounding flora and fauna. When Dolores and her deadly harvest eventually arrive at Hilda’s front door, the latter is forced to take action against a menace that’s much closer to home than she thinks.

It’s definitely a far out premise, but one that the filmmakers (along with co-writer Iouri Tcherenkov) manage to make palatable through the sheer originality of certain scenes and characters, not to mention an extremely vivid animation technique that mixes handmade images with crayon-colored backgrounds in a manner that recalls the work of prolific cartoon maker Bill Plympton (Cheatin’), as well as the Belgian film Ernest & Celestine (currently in the Oscar running). Much like a comic strip come to life, Girerd and Chieux present a roughly drawn world filled with humorous touches, especially the wickedly obese Dolores, who uses her prodigious boobs as lethal weapons and commands an army from inside her x-large bathtub.

Yet although Aunt Hilda! is consistently original and often quite fun, it treads too far into la-la-land to sustain itself for the long haul, while its lead protagonist never quite develops into a veritable heroine. Still, as a far-fetched but not so far off warning about the risks GMOs pose to our planet and livelihood, it’s a film whose many flights of fancy are ultimately grounded in the hard facts of modern science.

Accompanying the nonstop action is a playful score by regular composer Serge Besset that tends to lighten the mood, even when the world seems on the brink of destruction.


Production companies: Folimage, Melusine Productions, France 3 Cinema, Rhones-Alpes Cinema, SND

Cast: Sabine Azema, Josiane Balasko, Serguei Vladimirov, Gilles Detroit

Directors: Jacques-Remy Girerd, Benoit Chieux

Screenwriters: Jacques-Remy Girerd, Benoit Chieux, Iouri Tcherenkov

Producer: Jacques-Remy Girerd

Animation director: Susanne Seidel

Chief animators: Marcel Tigchelaar, Arturo Correa Hernandez, Gilles Rudziak

Editor: Herve Guichard

Music: Serge Besset

Sales agent: SND

No rating, 88 minutes