From reality to animation

Chiara Malta and Sébastien Laudenbach on making room for happy accidents in Chicken For Linda!

by Amber Wilkinson

Chicken For Linda! is a joyful animated family tale that sees a little girl (voiced by Mélinée Leclerc) embark on a farcical musical adventure with her mum Paulette (voiced by Clotilde Hesme) after a mistaken accusation leads Paulette trying to make good on her promise of a special chicken dish for tea. The quest is complicated by a general strike, the shenanigans of the bird in question and the emotional territory Linda and Paulette are navigating after the death of Linda’s dad.

The film - which just took home the top prize at Annecy Film Festival, along with a Gan Foundation award for distribution - has a vibrant palette that represents its characters in single colours and employs a style that, rather than be photorealistic, emphasises the movements of the characters, particularly the children.

The colour coding is because they wanted a “film full of joy,” says Chiara Malta, who wrote and directed the film with Sébastien Laudenbach, with songs provided by Clément Ducol.

Even the night seens have a strong sense of colour as the technique has the appearance of scratch art that children create, with bright colours showing through in the outlines of the characters against the dark background.

Laudenbach says: “We worked with a painter - Margaux Duseigneur - for the backgrounds and she proposed this kind of translation of the night and we were very, very happy and agreed with her.”

The characters have a similar spirit to those seen in comics like The Beano or French classic Little Nicholas, but Malta - who previously directed live action film Simple Women - says it was live action films that provided the most inspiration.

“We really want to put in this animation elements that come from cinema’s past and that are in our memories consciously or unconsciously. For example, for the father’s song, the words were very sad. But in our mind, there was a sort of maxi show about death in the eyes of his daughter. We thought about Bob Fosse’s All That jazz a lot, a movie about death but with a lot of life inside, and light and color and tap dancing.”

Linda and Paulette in Chicken For Linda!
Linda and Paulette in Chicken For Linda! Photo: Charades

She says they also had films in their mind from Czech cinema with directors who looked at children without adults and “for what they really are”.

Malta adds: “We really liked this reality, that it's rough and more interesting that the audience think about the children. Children are more interesting than we think and we did this movie for them, to let them laugh about adults. Because they are smarter than us sometimes and very quick. They are really open minded”.

Although animation might seem like a world that’s very ordered and where every pen or brush stroke is carefully planned, Laudenbach - who previously directed the animation The Girl Without Hands - explains the way they approached the film led to happy accidents.

“We didn't want to control anything,” he says. “The accidents ruled all the process of the writing and mise en scene of the movie.”

Explaining how this room for accidental moments of genius to come about he adds: “We started with the voice recording, which was not like in other animated movies, because we created a real set like live action movies, but without the camera only with the sound .The the actors could move and act in the real spaces. Inside, outside in the corridors. We made some props in foam foam - so as not to not have parasite sound - but with this accessories, the actors could use them.”

Malta adds: “We wanted to use the contact between what we think about the story and the reality of the actors because it is more enriching.

“We changed our mind about a lot of scenes, even about the identity of the characters. We think about some faces, we did a character style, and then we changed it because with this acting, something happened for real and so, this experience is in the movie now. And there is double freedom. The first is the moment of the meeting between this script writing and the reality and the second one was the meeting between us and the set, and thinking after.”

Although this is the first time the pair of them have had top billing on a film they have worked together for more than two decades both collaborating on writing and, in Laudenbach’s case, providing some animated segments for Malta’s work.

“We worked together, like underground, so we know each other’s universe,” says Malta.

Laudenbach adds: “So, we work very quickly. The film is totally the result of our two universes.”

Chicken For Linda! will be released in the US by GKids, no UK release has yet been set.

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