Early on in my research, I connected the films unconventional narrative with its unconventional style, specifically with Chomet’s character designs. I very naively said that they were very unappealing characters. In the context of Disney’s 12 principles, this is far from true. They may be ugly, but they are genius in their appeal that goes so far beyond just the superficial.
The word is often misinterpreted to suggest fluffy bunnies and soft kittens. To us, it meant anything that a person likes to see.
Frank Thomas (p.47, 1981)
The gaunt Gendarmerie is a very peculiar looking character, who’s mouth you can’t quite put a finger on the location of, but a wonderful illustration of his personality. His nose satisfyingly rounds off into his head. The length of it really compliments the way he walks, darting around everywhere while the nose leads the way like an outstretch finger accusing people of something petty.
The way he moves, particularly in the beginning of the film, helps us get to know how sour and disappointed in life this man is. As he walks, his head hunches below his arched body and his neck sticks out like a vulture; He whips round a street cornet as he storms off in jealousy; he slams his wine glass on the table after dining on his tiny fish; he pauses before he gets in bed and stamps on a cockroach. The time we spend in the equilibrium of the film defines his performance for the rest of the film in great depth.
A moment I particularly enjoy is when he tucks into bed at night beneath the his poster of a jolly fat man proclaiming the Gendarmerie the “Job of the future”. How could it have gone so wrong for him? The gendarmerie has a stigma in France of being the lesser of two forces and being archaic in comparison the the Police Nationale. The poster then is a joke and makes the protagonist look like a bit of an idiot.
Chomet has given us a great insight into this mans life considering the length of the film. Despite him barely looking human, he manages to make this guy seem very real and ordinary. Hayao Miyazaki says in Starting Point “Anime may depict fictional worlds, but I nonetheless believe that at its core it must have a certain realism. Even if the world depicted is a lie, the trick is to make it seem as real as possible.” Chomet’s world is a bizarre fantasy, but he’s given us the impression of an entire society. The protagonist is poor and has a bad job that he hates. You can’t get any more real than that.