The Girl Without Hands (2017; Dir.: Sébastien Laudenbach)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, September 15, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
In this woozy adaptation of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, a young girl is sold to the devil by her poor father in exchange for a river of gold…with sexy results! She is protected by her cleanliness and leaves her family for the forest, where she meets a water goddess and marries a prince, but the devil’s persistent schemes eventually drive them apart. It always kills me when I have to lambaste a hand-animated passion project, but French director Laudenbach’s half-drawn watercolor images largely left me unmoved. Even at a mere 76 minutes, the muddy pacing, vague designs and muted emotions of The Girl Without Hands make it a bit of a chore. To its credit, the film feels like a more faithful version of the Grimm Brothers than we usually get from the edge-sanding Disney adaptations, but it ultimately cares more about splashing around in a pool of hippy-dippy aloofness than developing strong characters.
Phantom Boy (2016; Dir.: Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
The New York-based independent distributor GKIDS is becoming as important an imprimatur of quality animated cinema as Pixar or Laika. Specializing in importing the best in hand-drawn foreign fare, GKIDS has racked up eight Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations in less than a decade, and in the last few years alone they released such enchanting and challenging movies as Ernest & Celestine, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Song of the Sea, When Marnie Was There, Boy & the World, and this year’s April and the Extraordinary World. Their latest film is Phantom Boy, directed by the same French team that made the Oscar-nominated GKIDS import A Cat in Paris, and it’s as charming and inventive yet modest and unpretentious as most of the films that carry the GKIDS label. Phantom Boy weaves together comic book, film noir and supernatural sci-fi tropes into a sensitive (but not lugubrious) story of a young chemotherapy patient discovering new powers while his mortal body wastes away. As a phantom, the boy can travel anywhere he chooses, teaming up in the hospital with an injured cop to bring down a disfigured supervillain who tries in vain to reveal his origin story. There’s just barely enough film here to make it to feature length, even with a silly finale that involves guessing a computer password while a clock ticks down, but there’s a nice balance between genre homage/send-up and a genuinely eerie and affecting story of death and disease, with a vision of New York City so loving and romantic that it could only come from a foreign visitor.