Narrative Research Journal

Week 4:
This week introduced us to the essay questions. I’m thinking of looking at the French stop motion film ‘Panique au Village’ for the visual storytelling question. Because I’ve never put any subtitles on, I’ve never known what the characters were saying but I never needed to because everything that was happening was explained by what was on screen. I’m not sure about my choice so we’ll see how it goes.
Week 5:
My narrative essay has come to a start this week as I’ve chosen to analyse Sylvian Chomet’s ‘The Old Lady & The Pigeons’. It’s a film without any (meaningful) dialogue so I’m going to be focusing on visual storytelling and narrative structure.
Week 6:
On exploring my chosen film for the narrative project, I decided to look at the shape of the story using Kurt Vonnegut’s graph. I found that it resembled the shape of the old testament’s shape with an incremental rise in good standing before and incident and a terrible low at the end. I thought about why I thought Chomet decided to end the film like this but I’ve yet to back it up with any sources. Next I would like to look into the devices Chomet uses to propel the story without dialogue.
Week 7:
This week I took out ‘The Illusion of Life’ to look into character appeal. Chomet’s characters are an ugly bunch so I thought I should see if Disney could explain why they’re still so appealing.
Week 8:
This week I started to look at Jacques Tati as an influence of Sylvain Chomet’s after I watched ‘The Illusionist’, a film Chomet made based on a screenplay of his. Chomet takes from Tati his sense of humour and the ability to tell a story visually. Tati is a very interesting person I have found, so I’ve taken out a book on him.
Week 9:
This week I finished the essay and send it to Lynsey for a once-over. Apart from a few incorrect references, my only real problem was that I’d written it in a bit of a journalistic manor. I’ll try not to get so excited about what I’m writing about in the future.

Researching the world of Sylvain Chomet was quite interesting as I hadn’t known about him prior to writing this essay. I found his work to be very inspiring so for that, this has been a very beneficial experience. I feel having chosen Chomet’s work as a example of visual storytelling, I’ve been given a very good insight into how visual storytelling works as cinema in its purest form.
I feel my essay could have looked at visual storytelling more directly and more in depth. There was so much that we covered in our lectures that related to what I was researching that I couldn’t fit it all in, but I’m confident that the sources that I did use were relevant. I found that I used more physical sources than before taking several books out to support my research. I also found it very hard to arrange all my points coherently and in a way that let the essay flow. I restructured my essay a number of times to ensure that I did eventually find the right order that would let me flow from point to point. I found this to be a difficult experience but I’m sure I’ve done better than last time.


Chomet on Tati

I found a particularly interesting article in the New York Times today where Sylvain Chomet talks about his depiction of Jacques Tati in ‘The Illusionist’. He says he had two different animators in charge of animating Taticheiff on stage and off stage because he wanted to show how he was a different man when he was performing.

There are two brilliant quotes for my essay here also.

“It’s all big, wide shots. There is so much to see. Tati was very much about participation. He wasn’t there to force people into a story. He wanted them to open their eyes.”


“He was immensely picky. He wanted to have control over every frame of the film, every gesture of the characters — which is what animators do. If he could have learned to draw, he would have been a giant.”

Chomet and Tati: Men of controversy

Image result for chomet and tati

I have an article here from ‘Electric Sheep’ where an interviewer grills Chomet on the origin of ‘The Illusionist’ script. There are people in the comments section going absolutely rabid about Chomet’s ‘Arrogance’ and accusing him of having stolen and misinterpreted the script to be about the wrong daughter and this and that and the other.

In relation to that, there’s a whole other world of controversy where Chomet apparently plagiarised the work of his long time collaborator Nicolas De Crecy in Belleville. There was a major falling out and they both seem to take it as a total betrayal.

Tati was apparently very sensitive about working with people. He took it very personally when people he worked with could no longer stand his intense directing style.

I personally don’t care where ‘The Illusionist‘ script came from because Chomet has made a very moving film about someone he clearly admired and captured the death of mainstream performance art.

Belleville Rendez-Vous

I’m quite surprised after watching this film. I didn’t think it could get weirder than The Old Lady and the Pigeons and having only seen that and The Illusionist, I thought this would sit somewhere in between insanity and romance. I was wrong.

The characters are uglier and nuttier, the food is just as if not more rotten and the story is even further from any kind of convention than either.


Character Appeal

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.

Poster above Bed.png

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.

Essay Plan


Style: Auteur theory – Fantasy Elements – Ugly Characters (appeal through storytelling, appeal through movement) – Unconventional


Narrative: Unconventional structure – Vonnegut/Old Testament – Visual clues


Why Animation?: Comic Value – Unconventional Story –

Les Vacances de M.Hulot

Image result for les vacances de monsieur hulot

I took out Jacques Tati’s film ‘Les Vacances de M.Hulot’ from the library to see for myself what Sylvain Chomet was so inspired by. The film is comic take on France’s ‘leisure culture’ and follows the antics of Tati’s onscreen persona Monsuier Hulot as he attempts to have a holiday on the beach.

It is evident that Chomet has learned a lot about situational comedy from from the work of Tati and shares the same kind of humour. Most of the jokes are based on misunderstanding and are made without any dialogue, just through Tati’s performance. He made himself known in the ‘music hall acts’ scene as a mime and his control of his body in the film shows why he was such a success.


The Structure & Morals of ‘The Old Lady & The Pidgeons’

Stephen Russell-Gebbett’s ‘Wonders in the Dark’ Analysis

After helping a friend analyse the structure of Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’, I started to wonder what actually makes my choice of film a worthwhile watch? I’ve chosen this film to analyse because of my reaction to the style of art and animation and how ridiculous, charming and hilarious it was;  but on revisiting it and reading Sam Juliano’s analysis, I wonder what makes it a worthwhile story? What’s the moral?

In a kind and forgiving world, the old lady might have stopped when the policeman showed her his foot and put an end to the whole bizarre situation…


Finding the shape of ‘The Old Lady & The Pigeons’ using Vonnegut’s Graph


But no. Instead we are left at the end with a hungry cat and our hero of sorts out on the street pretending to be a pigeon.

This film lines up with Vonnegut’s shape of the old testament. Where mankind was given incremental gifts from a deity before being ousted from good standing we now have a starving policeman cheats his way into free meals from a wealthy woman before discovering she’s using him and being cast into destitution.

The only reason I can think to end a story like this is for the shock factor and the humour of the situation. In addition, if his storytelling is anything like his art style, its supposed to be gritty, a little rough around the edges. There’s very little conventional about the film as a whole, so why make a conventional story?


But what are we learning? Russel Gebbet’s view is there is no moral. After watching The Triplets of Bellville I realise its just ‘That’s life!’ and ‘Things happen, that’s all they ever do’. Madame Souza spends the entire film helping out her depressed son, coaching him to achieve his dreams and in the end, when he fails, rescuing him from a sinister but ridiculous crime ring. They just cycle off into the distance before we get a last glimpse of elderly Champion alone in the dark. No big moral, nothing really leaned. That’s life.

I find that quite moving in its self. What better moral than to know that life is just chaos after all?

Shit happens. Deal with it.