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Dilili in Paris (2018)

Something sinister is afoot in Paris at the turn of the century. The Master-Men are committing crimes all over Paris and getting away with it. Jewels are being stolen, women and children being kidnapped and the police seem incapable of stopping them.

Dilili is a girl who hails from a French territory in the South Pacific whose home is the diverse and vibrant Paris. After work she makes the acquaintance of Orel, a Parisian delivery boy and the pair set of to explore Paris, meet its celebrities and luminaries, and solve the mystery of the Master-Men.
Dilili in Paris is the latest production from French animation director Michel Ocelot (who also directed Tales of the Night). The premise is simple, Dilili wishes to explore and experience Paris. As she embarks on this simple journey with her new friend Orel she becomes acquainted with the dastardly deeds of the Master-Men and determines to get to the bottom of the mysteries they pose.  Why have they not been caught? What do they want? Whilst initially it is Dilili who wishes to uncover the mystery Orel quickly comes on board with the plan. As they try to solve it they are plunged deeper into a Paris of the Belle Époque and with each avenue explored she meets the likes of Pasteur, Curie, Monet, Proust and a member of British royalty.

Because Orel is a delivery boy he knows everyone. As avenues to investigate are closed off a new name who can help is suggested. As luck would have it he just happens to be acquainted with them. It is however Dilili who asks the questions, take charge and who manages to connect with them personally. The strongest connection is with Emma Calvé. She is (was) a soprano who becomes the third member of the mystery-busting team. Emma is both charmed and fascinated by this young lady who defies all of her expectations. She becomes a combination of big-sister and mother to Dilili.

If you know your French history from the early 20th century or are a fan or art from that period there is much more to enjoy as you'll get the design references. There is a wonderful scene in a bar where other patrons are characters from famous painting of the period. You'll also be able to enjoy and appreciate the wider context of the film. I'm not familiar with much of it but I become lost in the world that was built right before me and afterwards wanted to understand some of the references in more depth. To Dilili's credit you never feel bombarded by the cast of characters - each is introduced with purpose, is given enough screen time and progresses the story nicely.

With each new person Dilili meets she learns more about herself and who she wants to be. As a character she could have been a precocious child but I found her inquisitive nature, her assertions and future ambitions to be quite endearing. She is not the only person who develops in the film. She challenges Orel as to what he wants to be revealing an intellect, or grasp of the world, well beyond her years. Some characters have the world view or ideas challenged and have natural responses to such intrusions.

Ocelot carefully mixes the attitudes of the time to women, those in the arts and views towards people of colour with modern sensibilities. Outside of the main story I found it never said "this is bad and that is good" at any time. He just presented a world where events and view exist and the viewer, who at times is challenged by some of the ideas, can make up their minds.

I had mixed views on Tales of the Night. Whilst I liked the look of it there was something about the animation that didn't sit well. Perhaps it was its fluidity but it just felt unnatural. As a result I had trepidations going into Dilili in Paris. At the beginning, I felt that my concerns were being borne out but very quickly it morphs into something else.

The film has a flattened 3D animated look to it and the animation very smooth, almost too smooth at times (a bit like the early motion-captured Appleseed films of Shinji Aramaki). What Ocelot and his team of animators have managed to capture and convey are the physical human ticks that we see in our daily lives and give them just enough weight that they offset the fluidity of the character motion. It feels so much more realistic and I just found myself being drawn more into the film as a result.

Whilst the characters are quite simple in appearance the backgrounds are something else! The film moves all over Paris from opulent riches to poorer run-down agricultural regions. The detail in the streets, houses and monuments is exceptional. I can't begin to imagine the work that went into this. There were other times I was convinced I was looking at real-world footage that the characters had *just* been inserted into, a bit like in the Pink Panther Show when he gets out of the car in the intro. In this case, the integration of human characters and Paris (which itself was a character of the film) was seamless. This vision of Paris is amazing and I would happily take a journey through the artistic team's interpretation of it from that time.

The final touch that punctuates just how good the animation is in Dilili was over the film credits. This coda culminates with a song and dance number and it is exquisite. With a colour palette and style that puts me in the mood of Yuasa works we have cast members in an inverted silhouette dancing. It is so remarkable because you can see that every actor on the screen has been individually animated - there is no cut-and-paste here which should have been much easier. It felt like I was watching an amateur or school performance with some dancing slightly out of time and others with their own stylings. Furthermore, off to one side we have Emma Calvé jigging and tapping her umbrella in perfect time to the music and just looked so natural.

The villains of the piece, The Master Men are set up as a diabolical and malign presence. They pull off the impossible heists, they kidnap and they leave no trace. Of course, they present a riddle that Dilili wants to solve. When their despicable plans are finally revealed however it is dark and for an older audience quite horrific. The "sting" as it was described in the LFF guide may go over the heads of a younger audience. To be fair the best fairy tales have this darkness within them but, perhaps it is a reflection of the news and political movements of the current time, it was very real, oppressive and for me ... just wrong and horrifying.

Aside from the animation what really impressed me with Dilili in Paris was how questions around identity, how you are perceived by others, blame, fear, friendship and redemption were carefully and lightly woven throughout. Doing so without forcing them in your face provided more depth and, before you realised it, everything felt all the more believable. I still think about "the sting" too which, the more I think about it, feels very political and something that can be understood across the world very easily. I'm sure a greater understanding of French current affairs would provide more context but everything the film touched on feels very now.

Dilili in Paris is initially a strange but ultimately rewarding viewing experience. It dares to be ambitious in its animation style, how the characters act and how everything looks. When it all comes together it is simply breath-taking. Dilili and Orel are fun to be around and their friendship feels believable, as do all the moments where Dilili meets new people and has new experiences all across Paris. The questions it asks, the ideas, issues and politics it raises are pitched at just the right level to develop a believable world with believable despicable villains. It isn't perfect but its ambition and style won me over and it is easily one of my top films of 2018.

FORMAT: Cinema  FROM: Wild Bunch RATING:PG [UK] RUNNING TIME : 1hr 35m 

IN A NUTSHELL: Full of joie de vivre Dilili in Paris explores the light and dark of a city at the turn of the century and its people in it. It shows a richly populated familiar world with characters all looking to find their place within it.