Although film-maker Nicolas Vanier has based the screenplay for Belle & Sebastian on Cecile Aubry’s television series, he has chosen to set his film in World War 2 in a small Alpine village, close to the border between France and Switzerland. From the opening scene where gnarled old Cesar (Tcheky Karyo) lowers young Sebastian (Felix Bossuet) over a cliff to rescue a little lamb whose mother has been shot by a careless hunter, it is clear that the boy not only trusts his grandfather but is brave, resourceful and independent.
Contrary to the villagers’ belief that a large rogue dog has been killing their sheep, Sebastian knows that the big dog is as gentle and loyal as she is beautiful. Accordingly, he names her Belle. Sebastian also knows that the local doctor (Dimitri Storoge) is secretly leading Jewish refugees across the border, a fact that comes in handy when Belle is wounded and in need of penicillin. Sebastian does not attend school but is astute enough to appreciate that formal education is necessary if he is to achieve his goals. This little message is nicely embedded in the plot, as Sebastian becomes involved in outwitting the Nazi soldiers stationed outside his village, specifically to prevent illicit border crossings. From the beautiful colours of the early summer scenes the ruggedly beautiful terrain changes through autumn to winter, becoming a carpet of deep, white snow.
Through this snow Sebastian and Belle must lead a Jewish family to safety in neutral Switzerland. As well as the story of Sebastian and Belle, the film contains sub-plots involving Cesar, Angelina (Margaux Chatelier) and the German Lieutenant Peter (Andreas Pietschmann), all fully-developed, three-dimensional characters.
Eric Guichard’s cinematography deftly captures the beauty of the scenery and the nuanced performances of the human actors, while Laurent Charbonnier’s animal shots are amazing. Armand Amar’s score provides the perfect accompaniment to the story throughout.