NZIFF 51: Dilili in Paris, Directed by Michel Ocelot

The animated Dilili in Paris offers much more than its family rating might suggest. Set in early 20th century Paris, Dilili is young girl who stows away from Kanak (New Caledonia) to Paris seeking to experience the world outside of her home. It manages to tackle issues of race, gender and power inequality but still leaves you feeling like doing the can-can as you leave the theatre.The 13th Floor Andy Baker, reviews this unusual and charming film.

The style of animation where two-dimensional characters are set against a photorealistic background has the strange effect of jumping you to the present while allowing you to stay fully immersed in the plot and character development. The use of colour works gorgeously in this regard. Director Michel Ocelot has insured significant attention to detail in the presentation of the architecture, Art Deco posters and other scenic features.

We are taken to the neighbourhood of Montmartre, shown the Grand Boulevards, visit the Moulin Rouge and ride a blimp. The film’s original musical score is composed by Academy Award winner Gabriel Yared (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain, City of Angels).

Dilili is befriended by Orel and the pair set off around Paris in a delivery tricycle to investigate the disappearance of young girls, attributed to a secret group calling themselves the Master-Men. Along the way the viewer is introduced to artistic cultural leaders of the time. We meet Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Colette, and Sarah Bernhardt to name a few. In fact you can barely keep up with the names as the film sprints through Paris’s heyday.

Much more than simply an art history lesson, for me what made the film most remarkable was how it tackled issues of race, gender and power inequality face on in a way that is hard hitting but also easy digestible for audiences of all ages. Dilili is mixed race trying to navigate where she fits in the world, all she knows of her parents is one is Kandak one is French. As such she felt ‘too white’ to belong in Kanak and ‘too dark’ to be accepted as a Parisian. Dilili’s life is one of being othered. The Master-men call all females ‘all-fours’ as a narrative for raising the issue of the subjugation of women in history that can be transferable to contemporary society. Corruption by those in power is spotlighted.

The film is also a story about hope, and believing in oneself and your convictions even when cultural and social structures may not be designed to hear your voice. This a beautiful message particularly for the younger audience. And to ensure the film doesn’t fall into the didactic, of which it sits precariously close at times, there are a few laughs thrown in for the older audience too. Prepare to walk out smiling wanting to do the can-can.

~Andy Baker

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