2018, Movies

Invisible Essence: The Little Prince (2018, Charles Officer)

My father read The Little Prince to me as a child, and maybe I read it myself a few times too. It’s been a very long time. But this whimsical and ambitious documentary does a fairly good job of showing me why it’s such a popular children’s book. I’m not sure it overcomes its nature as, essentially, a higher quality National Film Board doc, but it tries hard, which is something I can appreciate.

I have no idea if what this film says is true, that The Little Prince is the second most translated book of all time after the Bible. (Wikipedia says that’s true. Which is kind of nuts.) But it’s certainly more transcendent than a lot of children’s books. And it’s regarded more fondly as literature than most children’s books.

The film combines musings about the story, readings of the story and a brief biography of Saint-Exupery’s life. The whole thing is oddly framed by a young blind boy reading a braille version of the book. There are snippets from the live action film from the ’70s, there are clips from the animated film and there are readings, all of which break up the talking heads. (I should point out the interviewees are all very passionate.) Given that the subject of the movie, it is more lively than you might expect, and I respect the attempt to make this more than just a bunch of talking heads saying they love a book.

But there’s still a whiff of “publicly-funded Canadian documentary” here which the film just cannot escape. Yes, the production values are much higher than the kinds of NFB films I grew up with, but too many of the talking heads are Canadians. And the attempt to make us care about the rumour that a Canadian philosopher inspired the titular character feels unnecessary and typically Canadian. (Also. Also! The last shot…well, I live 3 or 4 blocks away from where it was filmed.)

Anyway, it’s a lot more compelling than you might think for a Canadian documentary about a French children’s book, but it’s also just that. Worth watching if the book meant or means anything to you.


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