Saturday 28 January 2017

1,001 Films: "Fantastic Planet/La Planète Sauvage" (1973)

One of the most consistently strange films ever made, the French-Czech animation Fantastic Planet sets out a universe where humanoids, known here as Oms, exist as the playthings of a race of blue baldies ("Draags") who have gills where their ears should be and do all their heavy lifting with their minds. Snaking between bizarro, sometimes plain inexplicable hand-drawn and cut-out animation activity, the main narrative thrust concerns a tiny Om raised by a Draag princess who grows up to be blooded in battle; eventually he will come to lead an uprising against the oppressive masters who killed his mother, and who now have wholesale ethnic cleansing on their agenda.

Part of the mystification is that the film invents its own lexicon of credible-sounding words and phrases ("savibon", "organure", "pontic ribation") for our narrator to play with; as one of the Draags is seen applying eye make-up similar to that sported by Alex and his Droogs in A Clockwork Orange, we might consider the extent to which director René Laloux is speaking the lingo of Burgess and Kubrick. If the animation's a little scratchy in places, it nevertheless succeeds in creating a thoroughly alien environment. Blobs of white goo fall from the sky on an extraordinary array of floral and insectoid hybrids; two Om lovelies are tied together at the hair and obliged to engage in a topless catfight, while the men busy themselves with duels that involve very odd dinosaur-worm protrusions. (More white goo, anyone?)

All the women, indeed, are sketched as pert-breasted, pouty and quick to divest themselves, marking this as a work of frenziedly male - adolescent, even - imagination: a hotchpotch of SF bandes dessinées, the music (and album covers) of Focus and Yes, and doubtless several psychotropic substances to boot. Its wilder, crueller flourishes clearly stuck with Jan Švankmajer and Terry Gilliam, to name but two latter-day visionaries; viewed today, it would seem to contain as much diverting kitsch as genuine artistry - though these visuals may still be a boon for hipster projectionists hosting retro club nights, and promoters may also want to retain Alain Goraguer's score, coming in as it does equidistant between prog rock and the accompaniment to any European porn movie of the period.

Fantastic Planet is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Eureka Entertainment.

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