French film review: Attila Marcel – delightful French whimsy

AtillaMarcel-24.03.2014 French filmNous trouvons de tout dans notre memoire” – “We find everything in our memory” – Proust

Sylvain Chomet is best known for his award winning ‘Triplets of Belleville’, an animated film based around three old ladies and the Tour de France (2003). His new film, ‘Attila Marcel’ also features old ladies – the two aunts of Paul Marcel, Attila’s orphaned son.

A world of French wonder

The world of Chomet’s film is strange and magical, a version of Paris straight from a rather bizarre storybook.

Comparisons have been made with Gondry and Jeunet, and if you enjoyed the oddness of films like City of the Lost Children or Amèlie then you will find this film a delight. French film

Paul is in his thirties, and a gifted pianist. His traumatic infancy has resulted in an inability to talk, but there is plenty of dialogue from the parade of unusual characters. My favourite was M. Coelho, the piano tuner who will tune anything if he gets the chance.

Very little is in this film by chance, and even incidental items have their moment in the story.

Gouix and Le Ny a delight

AttilaMarcel2-24.03.14-www.MyFrenchLife.orgGuillaume Gouix stars as Paul, as well as his father Attila, and the two performances are, by necessity, very different. The charm and gentleness that infuses the whole film can be directly attributed to the character of Paul, as played by Gouix (pronunciation guide here).

Anne Le Ny is Mme Proust, a wise and odd neighbour, who helps Paul explore the recesses of his tragedy-filled memory.

Le Ny is an accomplished actor, writer and director (Cornouaille, 2012 and On a failli être amies, 2014) who many would have seen in `The Intouchables` (2011) as Yvonne, assistant to wheelchair-bound Philippe.

In Attila Marcel, she plays a lot older than her 44 years, and does it with aplomb. It would be remiss of me to not mention Mme Proust’s beautiful Newfoundland dog, Mimi, who makes her own comedy simply by being present in scenes.

Subtitles that make you think

Subtitles are by Ian Burley, and they make for easy reading. I did wonder about the translation of a written note at one point, but will leave this to my fellow francophones to debate.

It must have been a fun – but complex – film to translate. How often does one get to translate ‘A pianist is a pyromaniac of the soul’ in one’s career? French film

A soundtrack of beauty

The music in this film is gorgeous – piano melodies and gentle ukulele music from Frank Monbaylet and Sylvain Chomet himself that waft along, and of course, the not-quite-right Lakmé Flower Duet so beloved of Paul’s aunts. Click here to find out how it ‘should’ sound, for those who really want to know!

A memory-box of a film

Attila Marcel is one of those films you might have to watch twice to really get. The layers and layers of story unpack themselves slowly in your mind afterwards, and the laughs are visual as much as they are story-driven. Luckily, it’s a very enjoyable way to spend 106 minutes, as this review seems to prove.

And if you’d like to read some more of our fabulous reviews, please click here!

And you? Have you seen this film? If so, what did you think? Share your comments with us below…

Image Credits
1. Attila Marcel movie poster, via IMP Awards
2. Guillaume Gouix, via PauletteMagazine
3. Anne Le Ny, via ParlandoSparlando
4. Film shot, via IonCinema

About the Contributor

Amanda Collins

I'm a writer of songs, poetry and film reviews, and “une vraie franco-folle”. I live with my family in Melbourne, Australia and enjoy travel, good wine and foreign supermarkets. My ambitions are to still be roller skating when I'm eighty! When not writing for, I can be found on TwitterFacebook and on my own Blog.

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  1. Gabrielle Dauby Apr 1, 2014 at 6:46 PM - Reply

    I actually saw this movie completely by chance; I had a ticket for the Alliance Française French Film Festival, and the only day (and time) I could go was to see Attila Marcel. It was such a great movie. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was happily surprised. Although Gouix doesn’t talk, his performance is extraordinary. I also really loved Mme Proust’s character and her quirkiness, and I was so not expecting the end of the movie.
    There are some unknown movies like this one that everyone should add to their list 🙂

    • Amanda Collins Apr 2, 2014 at 9:27 AM - Reply

      I agree, Gabrielle. Lets hope that Attila Marcel gets its own cinema release. It’s so gorgeous and given how well Amélie was received by Australian audiences, I am sure it would become a favourite. Plus, the 70’s vibe of the flashbacks is a bit flavour-of-the-month at the moment 🙂

  2. Elise Mellor Sep 2, 2014 at 10:24 AM - Reply

    I am absolutely going to hunt this film down. It looks just delightful. The description reminds me of the American TV series ‘Pushing Daisies’ which I just adore.

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