If central metaphor of “The Painting” is too on-the-nose for some, it’s well deserved. The movie makes no qualms about its socially conscious aims. Fantastical images come to represent unmistakably human concepts: the desire for freedom or life after grieving, for example. This delicate balancing of the real and unreal fleshes out the world of “The Painting” in beautiful and often moving ways.
For some reason, a painter has abandoned his latest work, and the figures inside that work devolve into turmoil. At the top are the Alldun’s fully completed figures. Below them are Halfies, half-finished drawings, and at the very bottom are Sketchies, incomplete figures. The Alldunn’s reign with an iron fist. Fed up with the chaos, an Alldun, a Halfie, and a Sketchie set out to find their painter.
This oft-filmed premise can stand in for any societal disparity. Class, race and gender divide the world, but what’s often forgotten is how those differences can be a uniting force. The love story at the center of “The Painting,” a Romeo and Juliet style affair between Alldun Ramo (Adrien Larmande) and the Sketchie Lola (Jessica Monceau, “Las amants du Flore), fades in the background midway through but shows just how strong a union between the upper and lower class of a society can be.
Even though the movie is often funny, it paints its characters in a tragic light. In this universe, a work of art only has the personality and skills its artist wants. No figure truly discovers him- or hersef. This dynamic leads to poignant lines like, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to have feelings that are not your own?”
“The Painting” is simply thought provoking at every turn. Questions like an artist’s responsibility to art, the infectious power of prejudice and a society in search of meaning pervade the work. The only problem is there’s little subtlety in answering these questions. The premise is on the nose and while its exploration of the world is nuanced, the basis of it feels to obvious. If it weren’t for the animation, “The Painting” would be preachy.
Filled with weighty questions, the movie’s charming, matter-of-fact personality carries that weight gracefully. Director Jean-François Laguionie, in addition to writing and directing, designed the characters himself. His trust in and love for his creation shows in every beautifully rendered frame. In this way, “The Painting” becomes an answer to its own questions. Laguionie’s telling his audience something: Art may raise many questions, but one only needs to look at the work for answers.