Though it was apparently a hit in France — and has spawned two sequels — Michel Ocelot’s animated Kirikou and the Sorceress predictably made very little impact in the U.S. The best way to describe the film is to say that it’s the kind of movie that plays — and wins prizes — at small, often specialized film festivals that you’ve probably never heard of. The audience for such films is small, but often rabidly devoted to them — frequently to the point of overkill from an outsider’s perspective. What they see is some kind of masterpiece. I confess what I see is a moderately clever little movie with flat, somewhat crude animation and occasionally appealing backgrounds that resemble Rousseau paintings.
Part of the appeal seems to lie in the African folklore aspect of the film, and the fact that it takes a kind of National Geographic approach to the character’s lack of clothing. (Grown men, however, are of the waist-up variety.) The accuracy of the folklore is open to question — and it’s not a question I’m sufficiently invested in to try to answer. Maybe I’m jaded by my recent exposure to Werner Herzog’s Where the Green Ants Dream (1984), where Herzog completely fabricated Aborigine mythology and presented the whole thing as anthropological. In any case, the film recounts the story of Kirikou, who is born talking, questioning and generally doing things not normally associated with infants. The crux of the story depicts his dealing with a sorceress who is bedeviling his tribe — or so it seems. Perhaps the most interesting part of all this is that it ultimately works like a precursor to the modern mania for backstories that explain why villains are mostly just misunderstood.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Kirikou and the Sorceress Friday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com