Belle and Sébastien
How much is that doggie, Belle and Sébastien, at the Digital Gym?
Once upon a time, way back in 1943, in a small village located just the other side of the Swiss Alps, there lived a six-year-old orphan named Sébastien (Félix Bossuet) and his adoptive grandfather César (Tchéky Karyo). Animal lover that he is, César thinks nothing of risking the child’s life to rescue a baby goat. But when it comes to taking out an enormous white Pyrenean mountain dog with a bad reputation for chowing down on local farm animals (Belle, the bravest pooch you’ll ever meet), goatherder gramps greets the townies locked and loaded.
The titular duo form a fast friendship. Belle helps to feed Sébastien and his family on sausages swiped from a German supply cart. In turn, plucky Sébastien gives the misunderstood pup a guided tour of the local bear traps set in its honor. Over the course of their many conversations, the lad imparts just enough backstory to bring his newfound playmate (and the audience) up to speed.
As one character sharply observes, “People aren’t born mean and neither are dogs.” The same can’t be said of Nazis, even a polite one like Lieutenant Peter (Andreas Pietschmann), whose straightening of the premises after uncouth comrades finish ransacking an apartment is done solely to impress its comely tenant. The sound of a Liesl and Rolfe-ish romantic musical interlude never materializes, but that’s only because director Nicolas Vanier and his co-screenwriters had an even more discordant ditty (or three) up their sleeves.
"Come Out, Come Out, Mr. Doody"
From Parental Guidance
Asked to don two hats, little-voiced Bossuet warbles the title love theme that plays under a slo-mo romp through a snow-covered field by boy and dog. Not since Billy Crystal’s electrifying laxative lullaby in Parental Guidance has a lyric from a family film been so puerile that it moved me to hit pause and transcribe: “Belle, you’re so beautiful. Just seeing you I loved you.” Forget Rocky Horror. Show this at midnight and I’ll be there every weekend drunk and leading the chorus.
Belle and Sébastien trailer
Pete and his goose-stepping compatriots are passing through town looking to liquidate French Resistance fighters being smuggled across the border by sympathetic sawbones Docteur Guillaume (Dimitri Storoge). After Belle snacks on leg of Kraut, Pete rallies his forces. Fifty members of an elite killing corps responsible for helping to eradicate 13 millions lives — but not one schweinhund capable of exterminating der vicer hund. Who’s kidding whom? These are Nazis, not PETA wimps!
If this children’s Bertesgarten of good versus evil sounds like sentimental claptrap forged from a fairy tale, guilty as charged. Based on a novel by Cécile Aubry, the material has already been adapted into a successful French television series (1965–1970) and Japanese anime (1981). The guilt-assuaging Vichy Water–lappers must still be harboring a boatload of culpability if they agreed to collaborate on an update of a tale that serves no other purpose than the sentimental whitewashing of history.
HILARIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD: Banking on Christmas Eve being the one night even a Nazi wouldn’t conduct a patrol, B&S tag along after a young woman who volunteers to take the wounded doctor’s place on one of his “deliveries.” What Nazi worth their salt wouldn’t interrupt Christmas dinner or any other meal for a chance to hunt down and eliminate the weak? Before we’re through, our canine star turns tail-wagging Anne Frank and the good Lieutenant sacrifices his life so that Jews may escape.
B&S comes under the heading “So bad it’s educational,” placing it far ahead of this year’s other big unintentional laugh-giver, Little Boy. Good or bad, just so I’m laughing. One can’t imagine anything funnier opening this weekend. (Have you seen the trailer for Spy?) Fans of terrible cinema (not the usual brand they screen after hours on weekends) will definitely want to make a pilgrimage to the Digital Gym. After the show, be sure and check out its logical companion-piece, the Criterion copy of Sam Fuller’s pedigreed masterpiece White Dog. Or, if you’re in a particularly masochistic mood, run them on a triple-bill along with Disney’s Old Yeller.