France, Belgium, Spain

Synopsis

February 1939. Spanish republicans are fleeing Franco’s dictatorship to France. The French government has built a concentration camp, confining the refugees, where they barely have access to hygiene, water and food. In one of these camps, separated by barbed wire, two men will become friends. One is a guard, the other is Josep Bartoli (Barcelona 1910 - NYC 1995), an illustrator who fights against Franco’s regime.

Directors Statement

I discovered Josep Bartolí’s work quite by chance while getting bored on the aisles of a book fair to which I had been invited. The cover of the book that Georges Bartolí dedicated to his uncle Josep caught my eye. A sketch of a Spanish Republican slumped on crutches, half-man, half-corpse, a drawing of remarkable power. It could only have been the work of a brilliant artist. This impression was confirmed on every page: political illustrations rich in detail and meaning, criticisms of power, of the state, of religion, of the cowardice of international leaders. And then the sketches of the camps. The power of the pencil stroke to bear witness to this shameful and little-known dramatic episode in the history of the 20th century. The urge to immerse myself in this story, to take it over, digest it and then bring it back to life through the filter of my pencil immediately inspired me.

But something more was required. If, on the one hand, it was clearly my pencil that had to pay tribute to Bartolí, as in a form of mise en abîme of drawing, on the other hand, it was obvious that this tribute had to provide something more. Movement, sound, music, breath, rhythm. Everything that is missing in a drawing.

In the days that followed that encounter with Bartolí’s work and persona, I knew it would be an animated film. Since then, this has become increasingly evident. Bartolí had to be brought back to life in the best possible way ...

Initially dazzled by all the aspects of this teeming life that echoed deeply within me, I planned to take a very biographical approach to this film: a journey through the twentieth century of this character with a thousand lives, from the underbelly of Barcelona to New York, from the 60s to the 90s, including the Spanish Civil War, the Retirada, Mexico and Frida Kahlo ...

The first to question this approach was Jean-Claude Carrière, to whom I explained the project during a few meetings. For him, it was obvious that the interest of this project lay in the fact that a press cartoonist was looking at the career of one of his predecessors.

After a few months of work and thought - helped in particular by Serge Lalou - I began to see things more clearly: the subject of the film is drawing. Bartolí is its incarnation.

A drawing is always asked to justify itself. Why choose this medium rather than a photo, live action or a simple text? For many people, a drawing is a preparatory draft, an explanatory sketch, a graphic second-best when you don’t have a better illustration. The artist has to continually explain himself in relation to a means of expression which is an obvious choice for him, but which is much less so for others. A medium that we do not trust very much, to which we always want to add a crutch, a caption, an explanation, a buttress.

It is clear to me that as the subject of the film is drawing, I assert not only the choice of animation, but the power of drawing to intrinsically relate everything that a real image could never do. The drawn line is at the centre of the narrative. Even the colours are reduced to the bare essentials. To the strict minimum. They back up the drawing, but not overwhelm or paraphrase it. Drawing is the art of the shortcut, not in order to go faster, but to lead the eye of the viewer or the reader to the very essence of what we want to say. Everything else is just frills. You have to trust the drawing to express a multitude of feelings and meanings through its style and manner. Through the artist’s choices. A photo, a camera image - unless it is retouched and therefore manipulated - can only show a scene in its entirety.

A drawing of the same subject will be able to do away with all the elements that confuse the discourse and so concentrate on the essential. Without cheating in any way. A drawing is, in principle, a pact with the reader/viewer. A provisional pact: we tell you a story through the prism of something that does not exist in nature: the line. (No person, no object, no animal is ringed by a black line). It is a complex intellectual process to erase the volumes that surround us and accept to represent them only by lines that are absent from our world. Yet everyone understands. Since prehistory and since early childhood. With this film, I want to give drawing its full place, showing what it can express, and so lead the viewer to re-discover this childlike confidence in the shortcut of the line to relate the world in all its complexity.

Beyond this artistic assertion, beyond the truism (a cartoonist working on the work of a cartoonist), animation is the only way to show how drawing allows us to capture and immediately editorialise an event, to highlight a flaw, a contradiction or an injustice. To make it instantly clear to the viewer without words or any delay. To show drawing as a cry too. A cry that will undoubtedly be different for the viewer. A cry that allows us to experience the world as it is without being fooled by what is wrong with it. A cry made in the hope that things will improve or that they will not occur again. A universal cry that, for Josep, as for me, passes through a sheet of paper and a pencil.

Through this film I wish to question the notion of commitment, resistance, testimony and of course uprooting. The resistance fighter is the one who physically opposes the unbearable, even at the cost of his life. The journalist is the one who observes and must preserve his life in order to testify. Bartolí was both. He took up the pencil when weapons became useless. My grandfathers chose to take up arms when they had to. I have my pencil to say what can be better.

The notion of uprooting is a subject that has always been dear to me (I have devoted several books and reports to it). As a teenager, I desperately sought a little exoticism in my family tree.

The power of drawing and uprooting have been at the heart of this project since the very beginning (in 2010). But these two subjects have taken on a very different resonance in recent months. In spite of itself, in spite of us, the film has become highly topical.

Who better than Jean-Louis Milesi (long-time screenwriter of Robert Guédiguian’s films) to have a social and human approach to these issues? He knows how to handle intergenerational relations, politics, militant action, struggles, humanity ... and humour, the politeness of despair. So it was quite naturally that we turned to him to take this story on board. His screenplay proves that we were not mistaken.

Director's Biography

Aurel is a French illustrator born in 1980. He is working as a press illustrator for the national daily Le Monde and the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. He has also worked on numerous graphic reports for various French newspapers. As a cartoonist, Aurel has published around twenty books, including two non-fiction comics, "Clandestino" and "La Menuiserie". In 2011, he co-directed with Florence Corre his first animated short film, OCTOBRE NOIR. JOSEP is his first feature film.
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Cast & Crew

Directed by: Aurel

Written by: Jean-Louis Milesi

Produced by: Serge Lalou

Editing: Thomas Belair

Production Design: Luciano Lepinay

Sound: Nils Fauth

Visual Effects: Éric Manevy, Justine Hwang

Nominations and Awards

  • European Animated Feature Film 2020