Opening 5 Jan 2023
Writing credits: Cécile Aubry, Alexandre Coffre, Pierre Coré
Principal actors: Robinson Mensah Rouanet, Michčle Laroque, Alice David, Caroline Anglade, Syrus Shahidi
Minding his own business at the Parisian skateboard park, Sebastian’s (Robinson Mensah-Rouanet) good deed backfires and mom Cécile (Caroline Anglade) is not impressed. Days away from a trip to Prague, his antics change everything. After frantically contacting her topmost choices, Cécile phones sister Noémie (Alice David) and is not left hanging waiting for an answer. Although dangling while giving rock climbing instructions with Gas’ (Syrus Shahidi) attentiveness from above, her sister says yes. Dropping Sebastian off at the sheep farm though, Cécile feels their mom Corinne’s (Michèle Laroque) ungraciousness; obviously Noémie did not consult her. Wearily, Sebastian and “Mamie” settle into a routine – she gives directions the 10-year-old halfheartedly follows. Taking on a local kids’ dare, the city boy meets Corrine’s neighbor Yves (Aurélien Recoing) and the dog Belle for the first time. Subsequently, that night he returns to see the dog; what he sees instead prompts him to do another good deed. The consequence of which he does not understand until his grand-mère, aunt and he take the sheep and goats to the French Alps for summer feeding. When Belle appears, actions speak louder than words and the two grow stronger together. Until Gas turns up. By then, any attempt at finagling only seems to backfire.
French author Cécile Aubry’s successful eponymous book series, Belle et Sébastien, spawned a few films and a television series featuring the characters she created. Director Pierre Coré and Alexandre Coffre’s adaptation retains the uplifting spirit of the boy (only 6 in the 2013 film) and dog’s bonding, although something is lost in its converting. This version is a hodgepodge of well know classics, e.g., Heidi by Johanna Spyri, and a general shallowness in the additional characters. Undoubtedly Coré was challenged working with his principals, a boy and Pyrenean Mountain Dog, although that likable pair and particularly Laroque carry the film. The locations are breathtaking, the production values sound. The film is in French, and the German subtitles are too quick and needed a dash of yellow for readability. Nevertheless, Belle & Sebastian will excite people’s imaginations, and warm the cockles of youngsters and youthful hearts alike. As people say, “To error is human — to forgive, canine.” (Marinell Haegelin)