Tuesday, June 18, 2024

“THE MOST PRECIOUS OF CARGOES”

THE STORY – Once upon a time, a poor woodcutter and his wife lived in a great forest. Cold, hunger, poverty and a war raging all around them meant their lives were very hard. One day, the woodcutter’s wife rescues a baby. A baby girl thrown from one of the many trains that constantly pass through the forest. This baby, this “most precious of cargoes”, will transform the lives of the poor woodcutter’s wife and her husband, as well as those whose paths the child will cross – including the man who threw her from the train. And some will try to protect her, whatever the cost.

THE CAST – Jean Louis Trintignant, Dominique Blanc, Grégory Gadebois & Denis Podalydes

THE TEAM – Michel Hazanavicius (Director/Writer) & Jean-Claude Grumberg (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 81 Minutes


We are often reminded of why several monumental points in history deserve to be captured on film. It becomes especially necessary in times of conflict when political mechanisms are triggered and the relationship between different factions becomes a complex entanglement to document. In the wake of such division, violence is often an unavoidable byproduct. This insidious state of nature can cast a long shadow, enveloping those directly committed to such actions and those who are merely bystanders caught in the line of sight. There is endless fascination with this examination, and the events related to the Holocaust are never in short supply. Even with the many attempts to analyze such a horrific period, there is always a novel perspective that’s worthy of exploring. An assortment of genres and mediums are utilized to mine this territory, and “The Most Precious of Cargoes” seeks to employ animation to communicate yet another facet. Ultimately, what it provides is an effective work, if not completely revolutionary in its storytelling.

The specter of the Second World War has already fallen across many European countrysides. It’s here where a woodcutter (Grégory Gadebois) and his wife (Dominique Blanc) live a very meager life. They struggle in poverty, barely managing to hang on after the death of their child. While out one day gathering firewood, the wife takes note of a train passing by and pleads to the gods to deliver something from the moving vehicle to relieve their suffering. What she finds is a small child, a baby girl thrown from a train. It is quickly realized that this infant comes from a Jewish family, obviously headed to Auschwitz. The woodcutter at first refuses to care for the girl, allowing his raging anti-Semitism to be dominant; however, his heart soon melts and affection grows. Yet, nefarious forces are at work to take the latest addition of their family away. So begins a perilous journey to preserve the life of this innocent amidst a sea of danger that is continually threatening.

It’s often an intriguing venture when filmmakers primarily known for making narrative live-action features decide to branch out of that comfort zone and try for a new medium. Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist“) has now found himself playing in the field of animation, and in many ways, his lack of experience in this arena does manifest itself. The overall aesthetic of these drawings takes on a storybook style as if to intentionally draw the drastic difference between the imagery and the subject matter. It’s a compelling choice, but one that leaves the animation itself to feel stilted in its motion. Despite the openness that animation can bring to the worlds it explores, the filmmaking here comes across as static in its showcase. So much so that Alexandre Desplat’s score feels more intrusive in the moments of grand emotion as if to overcompensate for this rigidity.

At the same time, there is an impact made in this stirring portrayal of choosing to preserve life in the face of such atrocity that is effective on a certain level. To be fair, the narrative itself is not innovative at all. One can exactly track where all the character arcs are eventually going to end up, and that pedestrian storytelling isn’t that engaging. Still, there is a powerful core here that can be moving, especially when the film depicts those harsher realities of the time. Several cutaways to the girl’s father exhibit the crueler realities of this event, and these sequences are very captivating. The heartbreaking decision he makes in the attempt to save one of his children is devastating, as is his time in the death camp in which hundreds of malnourished corpses are seen through a series of stark, ghastly drawings. It’s the most disturbing element that’s displayed and one of the more arresting scenes.

As far as the voice performances are concerned, the array of talent assembled here is dependable but doesn’t give completely extraordinary turns. Blanc infuses the wife with genuine sincerity and steadfast tenacity but also doesn’t evoke too much more personality beyond what’s on the surface. The same is said for Gadebois, who gives the woodcutter a harsh tone that slowly softens in a successful if pedestrian manner. Denis Podalydès voices a disfigured veteran who sees to aid the wife in her plight, but it’s a standard presence he brings without a great impression. Odds are the most emotional contribution will more than likely be from the narration provided by Jean-Louis Trintignant. He has a warm delivery with a touch of melancholy that is engrossing when delivered, and this being his final role undoubtedly makes his voice all the more welcomed. The performers are merely vessels to guide this tale along without ever really having lasting staying power.

It’s easy to find the intentions behind “The Most Precious of Cargoes” to be a noble and valiant effort. Its objective in depicting such a brutally dark history in a unique presentation is an alluring concept, and this method succeeds in several instances of exhibiting these events with an artistry that can be both beguiling and unsettling. Unfortunately, much of that is in the service of a story that is fairly easy to map out where every final destination point will end up, making the final results too predictable to have the deep catharsis the film is truly seeking to convey. All the same, it’s significant to have another perspective on a situation that should not be forgotten. While this particular entry may not feel quite as special as intended, the message is still resonant enough to have value.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Michel Hazanavicius creates a mostly engaging narrative that uses a unique animation aesthetic to contrast against a brutally disturbing moment in history. The emotions are effectively delivered in portraying both the unsettling violence and the hopeful optimism in persevering.

THE BAD - The story itself is fairly pedestrian and predictable in tracking the character arcs. The animation comes across as stilted and is less impactful. The voice performances are serviceable but not extraordinary.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best International Feature & Best Animated Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Josh Parham
Josh Parhamhttps://nextbestpicture.com
I love movies so much I evidently hate them. Wants to run a production company.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

101,150FollowersFollow
101,150FollowersFollow
9,315FansLike
9,315FansLike
4,686FollowersFollow
4,686FollowersFollow

Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Michel Hazanavicius creates a mostly engaging narrative that uses a unique animation aesthetic to contrast against a brutally disturbing moment in history. The emotions are effectively delivered in portraying both the unsettling violence and the hopeful optimism in persevering.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The story itself is fairly pedestrian and predictable in tracking the character arcs. The animation comes across as stilted and is less impactful. The voice performances are serviceable but not extraordinary.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-international-feature/">Best International Feature</a> & <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-animated-feature/">Best Animated Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"THE MOST PRECIOUS OF CARGOES"