Dir: Cedric Kahn. Fr-Ger.2005. 100mins.
Making a family film thatappeals to young and more sophisticated audiences is not that easy - but it isa task that film-maker Cedric Kahn mostly succeeds in with Charly.
Though no less than fivescreenwriters were involved, Kahn's feature tells the simple and well-wornstory of a young boy who has an ordinary object that becomes magical.
Box office should be strongamong French-speaking youth (it opens in France next week) particularly withits built-in fanbase from the source material comic book. Its mix of humour,drama and even mild action, as well as the inevitable moral about making peacewith tragedy, could also play broader and appeal all ages. But as a francophonekids' film it will be hampered in its quest for the lucrative internationaldemographic.
Charly is a departure for film-maker Kahn, whose previousworks such as L' Ennui and Red Lights explored carnal and darker avenues.Playing almost like a cross between Contact for kids and ET, itstheme is how a kid yearns to have people believe his supernatural experiences -and for once the adults realise he's telling the truth early on. It's agratifying change for audiences steeped in frustrated characters trying toprove something magical exists.
The story begins with asubtlety rare in children's features, establishing a family's life in a hillyeastern French town through the eyes of a young boy, Charly (Botzsaris).
It's Christmas, and he'sdisappointed that his dad (Landon), a military aviation worker, has given him aplain white airplane glider he made instead of the bike Charly wanted.
But tragedy strikes when theyoung boy's father is killed. Kahn deftly handles these scenes as Charly andhis mother (Carre) struggle to move on, going through the attendant stages ofgrief while the forgotten airplane - its wingspan almost Charly's height -reveals its power of flight.
Thus begins a sort offairytale about loss and acceptance as Charly becomes attached to the airplanelike a security blanket, watching it soar over and around the rolling hills.The digital effects are serviceable, more deliberately dreamlike thanrealistic, but extensive use of unconvincing day for night shots provesdistracting.
Momentum slows down in thepenultimate reel, as Charly becomes less an exploration of a boy'sstruggle over the loss of his father. Rather it surrenders itself to a moreobvious kids' genre romp, where youngsters foil buffoon soldiers and nefariousscientists who want the "MacGuffin" for their ownmilitary industrial needs.
There is also thestereotypical minority sidekick, a North African tomboy who provides comicrelief with her tough-talking immigrant accent.
Yet Charly doesrecover from this descent into the conventional, and remains an entertainingand affecting film for families, thanks in large part to the adult actors'performances, specifically Carre, who gives more depth to the role of a newlywidowed mother than what may have been on the page.
Botzaris, as Charly, iscompelling most of the time, but lacks the effortless, expressive demeanour ofthe best young actors.
France 3 Cinema
Akkord Film Produktion
Denis Lapiere from the comic-book by Magda-Lapiere
Arnaud de Moleron