What better way to spend a rainy afternoon with the kids than seeing The Day of the Crows (Le Jour des corneilles), an animated feature directed by Jean-Christophe Dessaint. Presented as part of the 41st edition of the Festival du cinéma du nouveau monde at the Théâtre Outremont, the much anticipated film, a France-Canada-Belgium-Luxembourg production is based on the internationally acclaimed book Le Jour des corneilles by Quebec writer Jean-Francois Beauchemin. In addition to using the voices of actor Jean Reno and late nouvelle vague legend Claude Chabrol, the film was drawn almost entirely by hand. As 24 frames are required for just one second of animation, making a feature-length film is no small feat.
In The Day of the Crows, the central character is a young boy called simply “Son.” After the mother dies in childbirth in the wild, the infuriated father first discards the infant but then reluctantly raises him alone in the woods. Son, however, still sees his mother as a half-human half-fawn animal spirit. She and other anthropomorphized forest creatures are his only companions other than his decidedly strange father.
When Son is old enough to venture to the forest’s edge, he discovers a new world. His father warns him of the dangers of civilization, but when the elder falls ill, Son seeks help in the village where his father is eventually given medical treatment. This is where we learn of the father’s tragic past and the grudge that some of the villagers still harbour against him. While the father recovers, Son stays with the doctor’s family, discovers love and learns the ways of the civilized world from Manon, the doctor’s daughter. Son eventually returns with his father to the forest, but his stay in the village has prepared him for his future survival.
The Day of the Crows incorporates some beautiful painting and finely detailed characters, but Son, intended to be simple and devoid of any sophistication, is basic to the point of being bland, with few traits to endear him to young viewers. Artistically, the film was stunning with strong influences from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, but there were technical problems that might be the result of a poor film transfer. The colours were oversaturated, and there were details out of focus throughout the film. But probably the biggest problem was its length. In spite of its artistic merits, the film could have easily been edited by at least 20 minutes.
Had Day of the Crows been released 10 years earlier, it would have been wildly popular. But with stiff competition from Pixar, Studio Ghibli, Dreamworks and Disney, and the technical innovations of the last decade, young viewers (and their parents) now expect much more than just beautiful artwork and music. They want to be dazzled and entertained from beginning to end, which Day of the Crows fails to do. However, for the purists or those curious to see what hand-drawn animation looks like, this is an enjoyable film.
Heather Leighton blogs at the Unexpected Twists and Turns.