Cannes 2022: “Le Petit Nicolas”, animated tribute to the genius of Sempé and Goscinny



Le Petit Nicolas – What are we waiting for to be happy? ***

by Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre

Franco-Luxembourgish animated film, 1 h 22

In theaters October 12

In the beginning was the line. And not just any. That, light and fine, of the pen of Jean-Jacques Sempé, which flies on the white sheet, while spinning the hammers of the typewriter of René Goscinny, and hovering the paper planes in the class of the Little Nicolas.

The stage is set. It is a three-way dialogue offered by this unique adaptation of the timeless adventures of the young schoolboy. Or the story of the meeting, in Paris in 1955, between the designer and the scriptwriter who created together The little Nicolasfrom their childhood memories.

Between documentary and fiction, this animated film of course takes up the tender and funny chronicle of the daily life of the boy in short pants, between ball games (on which the supervisor Le Bouillon slides) and punches (on the glasses of the poor Agnan, the darling head to slaps). But the character escapes from his stories to lean over the shoulder of his two “dads” in the midst of the creative process.

Small cowardice and great vanity

Their exchanges allow us to learn a lot about the two artists, starting with their youth. If they make childhood rhyme with carelessness in The little Nicolas, Sempé and Goscinny also slip in spicy reflections on the small cowardice and the great vanities of young and old alike. And for good reason.

The young years of the two artists were not always cloudless, far from it. Between the “torgnoles” received by Sempé and the sudden death of Goscinny’s father when he was only 17, then that of part of his family in Auschwitz, the traumas of youth are numerous to be exorcised in The little Nicolas.

The sequence between the few sketches from the 222 stories devised by the duo and behind the scenes of their creation is sometimes as acrobatic as a football match between Nicolas and his comrades. But the superb work on the animation makes us forget these scriptwriting crutches.

As if we were witnessing their coloring live, the plans are painted in watercolor to the rhythm of the movements of the camera. With incredible fidelity to Sempé’s line, yet perilous to animate as it is so delicate, the characters come to life before our amazed eyes, gaining or losing their colors depending on whether they enter or leave the frame, which is also surrounded by a margin. white. A fine tribute to that of the sheet of paper from which sprang The little Nicolas one fine day in 1955.

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