“Josep” review: a picture is worth a thousand words in this animated biopic


One of many animated biopics about to make the move from the festival circuit to the big screen, “Josep” is a slim but engaging tribute to the legacy of Spanish artist Josep Bartolí (1910-95), a Catalan Republican whose Goya-style drawings The time spent in French concentration camps inspired the Gallic director and artistic director of the film Aurel (birth name Aurélien Froment), himself a renowned press illustrator and press cartoonist. The film vividly recalls the ignominious plight of some of the 500,000 Spanish refugees fleeing Franco’s anti-fascist forces in early 1939, and it also highlights the power of attracting to bear witness.

Like the upcoming Danish animated documentary “Flee”, “Josep” was a 2020 Cannes Film Festival selection forced to cancel due to the coronavirus. It went on to win the French César for best animated film and the European Cinema Prize for best animated feature, as well as many other festival awards.

Taking a humanistic and at times slightly humorous approach, screenwriter Jean-Louis Milesi (longtime screenwriter of Robert Guédiguian’s films) tells the story of the courteous and charismatic Josep (voiced by Sergi López) through the prism of his friendship with Serge (Bruno Solo), a fictitious French gendarme new to the camp and repelled by the cruelty of his peers. Milesi adds an extra, current layer to the story by asking the aging and ill Serge (Gérard Hernandez) to share his memories with his budding artist grandson Valentin (David Marsais), who unexpectedly finds himself hooked on each word from the older man while looking at the picture Josep made of his best friend’s agony.

One of the many anti-Franco fighters who sought refuge in France and found themselves locked behind barbed wire, brutally treated by their guards and left to die of hunger, cold and disease, Josep saves himself from madness by drawing on any surface he can find. . The friendly Serge notices his talent and smuggles him a pencil. But he cannot save Josep and his companions from the worst predations of the inhuman French guards. As in Josep’s drawings, Aurel frighteningly portrays the main offender with ugly and swine features.

As Josep draws constantly, this allows Aurel to bring to the screen a montage of Josep’s works, by animating some of them. Josep’s sketches of naked men forced to bathe in a frozen lake contrast painfully with Aurel’s depiction of the comfortable gendarmerie headquarters, where guards bathe and shave as in a civilized world. The scenes of starving internees preparing a meal from any animal are also gruesome.

After Serge takes Josep out of the camp one night so that he can search for his missing fiancée, the Spanish artist escapes. As Serge recounts, they reunite in Mexico in 1943 where Josep has an affair with Frida Kahlo (voiced by Sílvia Pérez Cruz). In welcome humor, Frida has a surprisingly frank and salty language. We see the astute observations she makes to Josep about his art come true like later in his life as he moves from black and white line drawings to abstract color paintings.

Shot in CinemaScope using a 2D animation process, the film’s color scheme separates and defines the five distinct eras depicted. Animation, like Josep’s drawings, makes events instantly clear to the viewer. The strong subject as well as the recounted life of the eponymous subject make one wish for an operating time of more than 72 minutes.


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