Belle & Sebastian: Next Generation [Belle et Sébastien: Nouvelle génération] — Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023

Review by Michele E. Hawkins.

Well-meaning 10-year-old Sebastian (Robinson Mensah Rouanet) doesn’t seem to be able to keep out of trouble, especially as no one’s interested in his motives or whether his actions are just.  His latest scrape forces his mother, Cécile (Caroline Anglade), to cancel his holiday with friends and instead take him to stay on the family farm with her sister, Noémie (Alice David), who’s fun and loving but often not around, and their mother, Corinne (Michèle Laroque), who is always around — and dour and critical — and is irritated to have her grandson landed on her without her agreement.  Corinne doesn’t hold back in declaring to Cécile and Sebastian just how unwanted he is at the farm.  What is she supposed to do with a useless city kid who baulks at everything to do with animals and farming in general?

Sebastian, who has promised his mother to stay out of trouble while with his grandmother and aunty, soon finds himself in the thick of it when he encounters sheepdog Belle, and things get off to a bad start.  But, recognising the consequences of his unwise behaviour, Sebastian sets out to make things right.

In the wonderful tradition of the Belle & Sebastian films, Belle & Sebastian: Next Generation follows familiar themes of justice, love, faithfulness, acceptance, freedom to be our true selves, and friendship so strong that boy and dog will do whatever it takes to save each other from the wicked machinations of the cruel and the greedy.  But it is not only Belle and Sebastian whose lives are irrevocably changed by each other, but also the lives of the rest of Sebastian’s family — as well as of others less keen to find things not going their way.

Mostly filmed in magnificent mountainous regions, this landscape appears to us through the eyes of a Parisian boy who finds it both entrancing and frightening.  After all, life in the mountains is harsh, the threats silent and invisible; and, being a city boy, Sebastian lacks the skills of someone native to wilderness.  Rouanet is exceptional as he handsomely depicts Sebastian as courageous and determined.  Even when terrified and out of his depth, he won’t be cowed by bullies and he won’t let down Belle.

Michèle Laroque as Sebastian’s grandmother Corinne shows her acting talent and experience in her gradual and subtle change in feelings and behaviour toward her grandson.  She’s tough; there’s no doubt about that; but she finally comes to recognise and value Sebastian’s ethics and his mettle.

Mention must be made of Syrus Shahidi, who plays Gas, the embodiment of vengeful nastiness.  Shahidi makes Gas easy for audiences to wish ill toward, or at least to hope he get his comeuppance.

As are its predecessors, Belle & Sebastian: Next Generation is full of charm, offering a sense of hope that, no matter the odds, good can prevail over evil if we have fortitude, determination, and love: a delightful film for the young and the young at heart.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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