A tale animated and directed by Joël Farges
Do you want me to tell you a story? Do you want to know under what circumstances you were adopted? A father who is also an actor and a storyteller draws his inspiration from the real story of his adopted son and composes a philosophic tale whose hero is his own son. And his narrative leaves him to reflect upon our world as it goes or rather as it goes awry. And just as they use shadow screens to tell stories in Cambodia where his son was born, so does our storyteller. Various shadow theatre techniques are used to adjust to the narrative and to the countries in which the story takes place. Our shadow theatre artist uses a large variety of styles: first Cambodian, then Chinese, Indian, Russian and lastly Turkish. Then the story takes place in France and our storyteller uses puppet manipulation techniques. Until our hero, disheartened as being nothing but a small shadow on the world’s stage, turns into a real human being. A little boy extraordinarily keen on orchard apples. This is the story told by the father playing the actor-mime-characters’ voices-storyteller-shadow theatre artist. King Maniac III could not have any children. “If I can’t have any children, nobody in my kingdom shall have any!” This was how a period of terror started for the children of that small kingdom that we call the country of rain and tears. At the far end of the country and utterly unaware of this tyrannical insanity, Bima was transplanting rice with his mother and his sister Sita when children killers suddenly appeared. Bima and Sita ran away across the border and to unknown land… In the middle of the jungle they thought they were safe. But all of a sudden they heard a sad roar. It was a tiger trapped in a cage. Kind-hearted Bima opened the cage. The tiger writhed in agony because his stomach was so empty. The tiger apologized: - “I can see only one solution to ease my pain… Sorry, I liked you!” A marmoset drawn by the outrage cry of the children stood up for them: - “It is very bad to want to eat one’s benefactor!” - “But you can’t blame a tiger for being a tiger!” - “This is a kind-hearted little boy, he’s good. - “Yes, you’re quite right, he is good. Juicy and tasty. - “Stop playing on words.” The little monkey was persuasive enough. The tiger decided to be generous. But on one condition. Bima had to find one animal, just one, no matter which one, who would say nice things about men. “And then I will let your sister go and I will become a vegetarian.” This was what set off Bima and his friend, the world’s most talkative marmoset, on a journey around the world. In the country of Great Stability, a beautiful young jellyfish (a childhood friend of our marmoset and only child of the queen of the Silver Thread) was getting married to the son of the king of the Pearl. - “My friend will say nice things about men. Her family does business with men and makes a lot of money. By getting married the bride and her husband will be able to set up a factory of pearls and sell them at a very competitive price. And they will become the King and Queen of the Pearl Necklace.” An extravagant wedding party. A moving wedding ceremony. A grand event attended by Bima and his friend who was much moved. But the proletarians and the female workers of the new consortium took to the street: “We won’t string pearls and be paid peanuts.” The newly weds enraged at being disturbed sent their crabs and a big fight ensued on the Square of Friendship: - “So forget about the jellyfish. She is ruined and can’t bring herself to say nice things about men.” Bima and his friend landed up in an island – formerly pristine land – but now ravaged by human invasion. Deforestation and river pollution hurt the orangoutans living here. They were depressed, hungry, surrounded by mud, and when they mentioned men they couldn’t help calling them all sorts of not so polite names. On the island of everlasting peace an unfortunate gecko – he and our chatterer had once been as thick as thieves – had been crippled after a small dispute that men were unable to settle and which turned into an everlasting war. - “Nice things about men, no way!” In the country of right side and wrong side, Pegasus the champ would have praised human kindness but unfortunately he had not been spared from political regimes. He was sometimes cherished and sometimes beaten up, depending on whether the rich were rich or the poor, poor. And vice-versa depending on regime changes. And if he was hated, it was because of the black and white spots on his skin. They came to the country of the Sublime Door and met with a poor Persian cat who had landed up in Istanbul. She was willing to say nice things about men. Being a penniless refugee she had to scavenge through the dustbins for food. But she was an illegal immigrant in this albeit hospitable country, so she was arrested by the police. A whirling dervish who was also a seer comforted our friend. He told him about a worm who just loved the apples of the happy valley. The worm would tell him nice things about men who loved those apple trees. But dreadful Mondiablo had resided in the orchards. The apples which had so many different tastes – so much so that men wondered which ones they liked best – had been eradicated and replaced by tasteless, square-blue apples. Tasteless? Because everybody agrees on their lack of taste and so there could be no surprise, neither good nor bad. Blue because they were appealing in ads. And treacherous Mondiablo had managed to make apples unwilling to have worms inside them. They were square because it made it easier to carry them. The small worms kicked out of their heaven were very angry. In order to launch his new product Mondiablo held prisoner the former king of apples whom Bima readily released from prison. To allay his anger the old king discovered an old garden in which he could enjoy the apples. Bima and the old king found a happy worm hidden in the pulpy flesh of a Rennet apple. Bima took advantage of the king’s good mood to have him say nice things about apples… “Oops, I mean men.” Bima and his friend, the men’s champion, got back to the tiger. Bima realized that his sister was not easily fooled and that the angry feline who had shown his claws and bared his teeth was nothing but a submissive big cat who had become a vegetarian. Meanwhile and as it is not possible to tell the whole story in a synopsis, the little hero’s mother announced to the tyrant that our hero was his own son. The tyrant was so happy that he overthrew his throne. Bima refused to recognize him as his father and declared that his real father was the deposed king of apples. He had not found any animal willing to say nice things about men. But his journey was not useless because he found a loving father who wanted his son to take his place at the head of the kingdom of the orchard apples.
This project follows on from my other movie, Serko, which featured very short shadow sequences. Some viewers were surprised by this narrative approach. They thought I was the one who had invented it. I had not invented anything. I just used shadow puppetry as it was shown in France in the 19th century. These “Ombromania” shows (as they used to be called in those days) are how film started. And they originated in faraway Asia. I have always been fascinated by shadow puppetry. I am a real ombromaniac – and I felt like carrying on with a project that had started to take shape in Serko by composing a story using shadow screens in different styles. Indeed what people generally don’t know is that there are various techniques: black and white (using figures made of leather) or multicoloured (obtained thanks to translucent figures). The manipulation also depends on the country: with several hands, the bodies of the animators are visible or totally hidden. There can be up to 30 puppeteers. The light behind the screen varies according to the country. An oil lamp, a grand fire, a gas lamp… The light changes the atmosphere, the magic, the poetry… A flame can make a character unreal or give it a fantastical aspect. An oil lamp plays on the shady zones. A strong electrical lamp plays upon the accuracy of the features of the characters and the setting. As I thought about all these techniques, I told myself a story using this very old art form. And I wanted to interpret it in a new way and emphasize its magical power, how bewitching and captivating it can be. For The Little Apple King, I drew my inspiration from Paul Grimault’ The King and The Bird (Jacques Prévert wrote the script), from Voltaire’s stories (The World As It Goes and Candide) and from Salman Rushdie’s novel (Haroun and The Sea of Stories). I raised topical issues and used traditional narrative form. A Ulysses-like character set out on the Quest of the Philosophical Grail: an animal who would say nice things about men. The further he walks, the more unreachable his goal seems. It is the very definition of adventure. (Etymology: “advenire”, which means to arrive, from ad + venire = to come.) In The Odyssey, Ulysses comes back home after pacifying a world in shambles. But when a world in shambles is pacified, there is no story to tell anymore. In my project, the hero settles down where his feet had led him. He doesn’t go back home. He becomes an “immigrant”, between two cultures. Belonging nowhere. However the world is still in shambles but the character accepts the unsteady world with its unstable balance. He accepts that the essence of the world is instability. He is made king of the apples and takes root like thousands of other immigrants who have come to Europe in so far as Europe welcomes them. By travelling the world, our little hero becomes discerning. The little Apple King is not content with cultivating his garden; he pays attention to those who are miserable and does his utmost to keep intact the miracle of the existence of the universe. A few last words: the reader must read the story with children’s eyes, listen to it with ears wide open unto the woes of our time, to imagine it as if made from shadow screens which keep showing us their secrets and of course accept that the special form of my narrative is proof that I still believe that the world is not a complete mess. I mean, one can still tell cock-and-bull stories but aim to be slightly philosophical and political. 3. To tell this story. In order to tell this story I intend to use the old techniques of shadow puppetry. I am going to draw and make figures according to the general tradition for the main character that will have a mobile chest and head as well as mobile arms and legs so that they can be animated. Then I will insert this character and his companion into other settings and among other characters in accordance with local styles and traditions. Our figures and our settings will be made by local and traditional craftsmen, and then we will shoot the different parts of the story in the different countries where the story takes place (Cambodia, China, India, Turkey…). The shadow theatre is a ceremony, a ritual. And this ceremony will be evoked because we also shoot the backstage and the audition rooms. We will also see the puppeteers give life to the figures. It will be a strange, secret art in progress. An art about delicate, fine features, about subtle colours, about the magical chiaroscuro, about the mystery of animation. We will use several styles, each style fitting one specific story. The Khmer shadowists (Sbek Thom) of the Royal Phnom Penh Company will be in charge of the first part, the story of the tyrant and the tiger. They will use the traditional characters and we will ask them to insert our two characters Bima and our monkey and to look after the development of the story. Chinese artists from the city of Xian will be in charge of the second part (that of the disastrous marriage between the squid, the king of the Pearl, and the jellyfish, the queen of the translucent thread). They handle the translucent inks, the diaphanous textures, the fine fabrics with great art . The Beijing Company will be in charge of the journey of Bima in the mountains because they know how to handle black inks and are able to hint at dark landscapes as no one else. The itinerant shadowists of the Tamil Nadu in India will be in charge of the third part (the story of the unfortunate gecko). They usually work on a screen lit by fire, scene after scene. They are never more than four puppeteers whereas in Cambodia they can be up to twenty or more. The fourth part (the story of Pegasus the horse) will be made in France after the style of the Chat Noir (Black Cat), a famous shadow theatre which featured poetic fantasies by creators like Caran d’Ache or Henri Rivière at the end of the 19th century. La Marche de l’étoile (March of the Star) is one of the masterpieces of this little known art. For a few years now, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris has been rehabilitating this art. We will adopt Rivière’s style and will draw our inspiration from Picasso’s ink horses. The Turkish shadowist will be in charge of the fifth part (the undocumented little Persian girl) and we will use the Karagheuz style. Then in Pinocchio-style the main character will become a puppet that, like all the other characters met in the Isle of Big Consumption, will be animated by masked puppeteers after the fashion of Bunraku . After our character has become alive, we will turn to live-action shooting. The picture – often against the light – will retain hints of the shadow theatres which are our source of inspiration for our stories. Second element of the film: the storyteller. He is an important character since he is the pivot, the link, the connecting element between the different parts. We’ll hear him, he will intervene, he will play all the parts and all the voices (except that of Bima, played by a little boy, and that of the sister played by a little girl). He will play Zadig, the deposed king of apples. We need a versatile actor able to mime, change his voice, perform all the parts and instil into the storyteller unparalleled stamina and gusto. His role is that of the traditional storyteller, of the African griot, and the Indonesian dalang. His mission is to make sure the narrative is dynamic. An actor, a voice, a mime, he gives his all to the show and changes into whatever character he performs. Our actor-storyteller makes sure the whole system works; he will be a member of the company of our puppeteer. There will also be live-action shots. As I am extremely fond of the 19th century picaresque tale in which a writer intervenes in the story, in the behaviour of his characters, and often in what is none of his business, I have made use of the same device – that of the storyteller. He is seen playing the voices, miming the part, handling the figures and puppets. We notice that he is heckled by a hostile audience in some passages of the story, and he is working hard for his sad story to be successful. He tampers with the misfortunes of his characters when the audience is against him… The famous Turkish actor Tuncel Kurtiz will play Pomodor. The music (a crucial element of our film) which constantly accompanies the 75-minute film will be composed by the great Turkish DJ Mercan Dede. He will be accompanied by Anglo-Indian singer Susheela Rahman. For those familiar with his subtle scores, the music will convey the rhythm, the bewitching melody which one hums as soon as one leaves the movie theatre. One last point: Joëlle Bouvier will be in charge of the choreography (the apple tree sequence). She is amazing when she makes ordinary couples dance. Those dancers – often coming from poor neighbourhoods – become princes or princesses, the sons and daughters of the greatest kings thanks to her art. [/lang_en][lang_fr]