For viewers who take it lightly, “The Living World” is a funny, charming faux-fairy tale about ogres, knights and maidens; but it threatens to sport a hairy intellectual underbelly that only those well-versed in French culture can appreciate. It’s certainly better to take the film as a witty piece of fun enjoyable for all ages. Short and sweet, it would make for offbeat family TV programming.
Leaving his parents’ home, young Nicolas (Adrien Michaux) takes out through the forest, where he encounters the brave Lion Knight (Alexis Loret), barely older than he is. In a delightful bit of casting, a large Labrador plays the knight’s lion companion, whose frightening roar is heard courtesy of the sound mixer.
While the Knight goes off to kill an ogre who eats children, Nicolas meets the lovely Maiden of the Chapel (Laurene Cheilan of the wavy blonde hair and alabaster hand), who is the ogre’s captive. She gives Nicolas a magic sword and urges him to help the Lion Knight kill the beast.
Reaching the castle first, the Knight falls in love with the ogre’s beautiful wife Penelope (a noble Christelle Prot). She goes for him, too. However, like the Maiden, she is bound to her husband by “her word.” Both the Knight and Nicolas engage the monster in combat, but only one defeats him. Penelope, who is a vegetarian, frees the children she was supposed to cook for dinner and everyone lives happily ever after.
Setting is no-budget-Medieval, with the outer wall and courtyard of an old castle providing the film’s main sets. French stage helmer Eugene Green, admired for his feature film bow “Toutes les nuits,” has a simple, direct relationship to his actors, who wear blue jeans and speak in normal French slang, getting laughs throughout the dialogue. Their calm, open faces provide deadpan masks for the jokes.
Raphael O’Byrne’s lensing has the same kind of directness, whether illuminating a plain stone bed chamber or an enchanted tree in the forest. Rudely jerking the story out of this universal mode are references (which earned laughs at the Cannes screening, however) to things like the “Jules Ferry laws” (they reformed the Napoleonic code, for those in the know) and psychoanalyst-guru Jacques Lacan.
Even more worrisome is a slew of pointed dialogue, placed just at pic’s climax, about “the word” and how it apparently brought the Lion Knight back from the dead. At this point auds should probably be asking how Lacan’s teachings relate to the opening Dies Irae funeral hymn and a Master Eckhardt quote about God. But the film’s best side is much less complicated.