OIAF Review: 'Aunt Hilda'

Aunt Hilda (Tante Hilda)
(France, 89 min.)
Dir. Jacques-Remy Girerd, Benoît Chieux; Writ. Jacques-Remy Girerd, Benoît Chieux,
Starring: Sabine Azéma, Josiane Balasko, François Morel, Bruno Lochet
Aunt Hilda’s screening at the 2014 Ottawa International Film Festival began with a gaffe. The images flickered onscreen without any accompanying audio. As patrons scattered about the around the theatre shouted “Sound!”, “Sound!”, and “Marco!”, one couldn’t really be bothered by the muteness since the beautiful hand drawn animation of the film is a marvel. Look at Aunt Hilda in awe. Listen to it less closely, though, for when the film finally clicked on the audio, one realizes that Aunt Hilda plays better with the volume off.

A snide/back-handed compliment this might be, but the lovely animation of the film compensates for the flimsy script that could barely carry a short. (The frequent histrionics of the vocal performances don’t do the film any favours, either.) The film pits Aunt Hilda (voiced by a wispy Sabine Azéma) on an environmentalist crusade as she fights for the rights of plants when a NGO introduces a new genetically engineered crop (like a blue piece of corn with thistles) that could cure world hunger but really just serves to line some pockets that already go deep. They go deep down underground into an anthill where the diabolical, honey-guzzling Dolorès (Josiane Balasko) plans to conquer the market by ruling nature. The prim and thin Hilda (why she’s called an aunt is never clear since she doesn’t have any nieces, nephews, or younger friends) faces off against the gluttonous and jiggly Dolorès (whose bodyweight seems like an arcane personification of evil) in a been-there, done-that battle of the little environmentalists versus the overconsumption of Big Business. Die-hard green thumbs, however, will doubtlessly enjoy Hilda’s amusing fight.

Aunt Hilda, screenplay aside, is a wonder of classical animation. Watch it with earplugs and it might be an hour-and-a-half of animated bliss. Directors Jacques-Remy Girerd and Benoît Chieux use the muted palette of the hand drawn animation to harken back to old days when things were driven by quality and care and not by the demands of mass consumption. It’s therefore fitting that Aunt Hilda comes to life with the help of pencils and pens, rather than newfangled (and often generic) computer-animated wizardry. Aunt Hilda’s nostalgic charm does her old school cause some justice because it looks and feels like a film for the little guys.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Aunt Hilda screens again on Sunday, Sept. 21 at 3:00 pm at The ByTowne.
Please visit www.animationfestival.ca for more information on this year’s festival.