Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius is set to adapt Jean-Claude Grumberg’s bestselling tale “La plus precious des marchandises” into an animated feature film. The Dardenne brothers are co-producing the film with Studiocanal, which will handle all rights, including international sales.
The tale, set during World War II against the backdrop of the Holocaust, is produced by Patrick Sobelman and Robert Guédiguian at France’s Ex Nihilo, and Florence Gastaud, Riad Sattouf and Hazanavicius at Les Compagnons de Cinéma. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are co-producing via their banner Les Films du Fleuve. Valérie Schermann’s company, Prima Linéa, whose track record includes the award-winning “The Red Turtle,” will be handling the animation.
The story intertwines the fates of a Jewish family, including newborn twins, who are arrested in Paris and deported to Auschwitz, and a poor and childless woodcutter couple living in the depths of a Polish forest. While on a train to the death camp, the young father puts one of his twins in a package and throws him out of the train, into the snow. The lonely woodcutter wife, whose sole distraction is to watch the trains pass by, comes across the package and discovers the child she was waiting for so fervently.
Hazanavicius will co-write the script with Grumberg based on the latter’s novel, which was published in January and has already been translated into more than 10 languages. “Opposing the force of life to the industry of death, Grumberg’s tale succeeds in finding something beautiful to tell about [a period] that will forever remain a stain on the history of mankind,” he said.
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Hazanavicius, who won an Oscar for “The Artist,” said that although he didn’t initiate the project, he’s intimately connected to it. He has known Grumberg, a friend of his parents, since childhood, and he has explored, either directly or indirectly, the topic of mass murder and genocide in previous films, such as a documentary about the genocide in Rwanda, which he co-directed, and “The Search,” set in war-torn Chechnya in 1999.
The director said his ambition with this project was to deliver a universal tale about love and resilience and to depict in a modest and accessible way the experience of the death camps.
Besides writing, directing and producing the film, Hazanavicius will also create the graphic design of the movie. He said he has been drawing his whole life. “The look of the animation will be rather classical and inspired by many traditions, from ‘Snow White’ to Japanese features and 19th century Russian aesthetic,” he said.
The film will mark Studiocanal’s third collaboration with Hazanavicius following “Redoutable” which world premiered in competition at Cannes in 2017, and the upcoming “Le prince oublié.”
“We immediately thought of Michel, who is one of Europe’s most talented and creative filmmakers, one of the rare European directors to have won an Oscar,” said Nicolas Dumont, Studiocanal’s exec VP of French production, theatrical distribution and home entertainment.
“He’s not only a wonderful storyteller, he’s also a talented artist who graduated from the prestigious Beaux Arts school in France and his drawings are beautiful,” said Dumont.
Studiocanal has been delivering critically acclaimed animated features such as “Ernest & Celestine” through its collaborations with well-established animation companies like Folivari and Aardman (“Shawn the Sheep”). Dumont said the company was also increasingly interested in either initiating projects or boarding them at a very early stage.
Sobelman said Agat Films had decided to venture into animation because of the emotional strength of the story and its universal themes. “For us it’s a gamble because we’ve never done animation, and it’s a very ambitious project to start with, but the fact that we have been able to aggregate so many talented people around this project speaks volume about its potential,” said Sobelman.
The production of will kick off in 2020 for a theatrical release scheduled for 2022.