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Top French Animation House Folivari Sets ‘Carmen’ Adaptation from Sébastien Laudenbach (EXCLUSIVE)

Sebastien Laudenbach and Didier Brunner
Photos: E. Perdu/CITIA

Didier Brunner – producer of “The Triplets of Belleville,” “The Secret of Kells” and “Ernest and Celestine” – is readying his next production, ’Prends Garde à toi!,’ an adaptation of the ‘Carmen’ story led by one of France’s freest creative spirits: Sébastien Laudenbach.

Laudenbach’s feature debut, “The Girl Without Hands,” an adaptation of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, was acquired by Gkids for North American distribution. It also took Annecy’s 2016 Jury Prize. He is now directing his second animated feature, “Chicken for Linda!”

“Prends Garde à toi!” is inspired by both Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella and Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera, the title (literally “Beware!”) being a famous repeated warning from Carmen’s entrance aria in the opera.

Laudenbach’s third feature, the 2D animated feature is set up at Paris-based Folivari, the production company founded by Didier and son Damien Brunner in 2014, which has seen rapid success with 26-part series “Ernest and Celestine: The Collection” and, among features, Annecy hit “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” Netflix pick-up “Pachamana,” and Studiocanal sales hit “SamSam.” “Prends Garde à toi!” is co-produced with Pierre Henri Leon at France’s La Garde Montante.

“Prends Garde à toi!’s” art director is a prestigious French comic book artist of Portuguese decent, Cyril Pedrosa, best known perhaps for the political fantasy graphic novel series “The Golden Age.”  A double Angoulême International Comics Festival winner, Pedrosa took its Essentials award in 2008 for “Three Shadows” and its Audience Award in 2012 for the semi-autobiographical graphic novel, “Portugal.”

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Set in a Seville of the same historical epoch as the original story – though the film will take some historical liberties – Laudenbach’s animated feature retains the figure of the free living and loving Carmen and Don José, an army officer and suitor hell-bent on controlling and owning her.

The central narrative, however, turns on two adolescents who are told by a old knife-grinder that Carmen will be murdered by a man who attempts to make her fall in love with him, said Didier and Damien Brunner.

One of the young adolescents falls under her spell of intelligence, beauty and freedom, and decides he will thwart that destiny by saving her, they added.

Whether he can succeed is another matter. It is not clear if the two adolescents will be a boy and girl tandem, Laudenbach said.

“For Sébastien, the adolescents represents the latest generation, which can fall in love with someone without wanting to control them,” said Didier Brunner.

This is a socially committed, feminist story about freedom, about how a woman can be free this century and succeed in being the woman she wants to be,” added Damien Brunner, adding that the feature is also a story about modern-day friendship.

Targeting 8-year-olds and upwards, “Prends Garde à toi!” has first-draft treatments, co-written by Laudenbach and  Santiago Otheguy (“La León”). Laudenbach and Pedrosa, working as a tandem, are defining its graphic style.

“Graphic collaboration with Cyril Pedrosa is a constant dialogue, as the visual aspect of the film will be essential,” Laudenbach told Variety. “The architecture of Sevilla, the lighting, colors, textures, and also specific visual sequences such as the knife-grinder’s visions, will make the whole film quite rich,” he added.

Laudenbach’s graphic style has established him as one of the boldest animation directors of his generation. The graphic style of “The Girl Without Hands,” which opened Cannes ACID section, is “light years from commercially popular toon-making,” Alissa Simon wrote in her Variety review.

“Each shimmering frame is composed of multiple layers of diverse drawing and painting techniques and washes of color combined with 2D computer animation,” she noted.

Characters in “Chicken For Linda!” are expressively sketched if close to the camera but barely a few line drawings if in the distance.

“Prends garde à toi!” is a new step in my work, which should prove to be full of discoveries and new experiences,” said Laudenbach. “I wish, unlike for ‘The Girl Without Hands,’ to be surrounded by an extensive team. This piece is meant to be collective, which will result in a very different creative process. We want to reach a large target.”

“The through line in Folivari projects is to work with auteurs who have really something to bring to projects which are really original and different from mainstream titles, and bring these projects to financing sources,” said Didier Brunner.

Folivari projects speak about the world, they may be movies for children but they have real messages, Damien Brunner added.

A tyke targeting family comedy produced by Dolce Vita Films and Miyu Productions, “Chicken for Linda!” is at an animatics stage. Production will begin by October at Miyu’s Paris studio.