Belle et Sébastien: Cutesy French Drama About a Boy & His Dog
There’s always something rather endearing about watching young children bond with animals on the big screen. They share an innocence, curiosity and enthusiasm that, when handled well, make for an engaging watch – something that Belle & Sebastian does very well. Based on the Cecile Aubrey novel of the same name – which was also adapted into a French TV series in the 60s – the film tells of the unlikely relationshiop between a boy and his very large dog and, although dated as a concept, it’s got plenty of heart and soul.
During WWII, young Sebastian (Bossuet) lives with his adoptive grandfather, Cesar (Karyo), and guardian, Angelina (Chatelier), high up in the French Alps. The invading Nazi forces are keeping a close eye on the small mountain town – which lies on the border with Switzerland – and are on the lookout for anyone who might be helping Jews escape across the border. Trying to live as normal a life as possible in the situation, Sebastian and Cesar enjoy venturing on long walks whilst the topics of war and Sebastian’s missing mother – whom Sebastian believes has gone to America – are avoided.
The pair soon finds themselves on the prowl for a creature that’s been pillaging its way through the farms in the area, though while out on his usual rounds, Sebastian discovers that the so-called beast is nothing more than a mistreated dog who. Sebastian befriends the dog – whom he soon names Belle – and takes on the responsibility of keeping his new best friend away from the harm which the local hunters – as well as Cesar himself – wish to bring on him.
One of the most appealing things about Belle & Sebastian is the simplicity and effortlessness of its storytelling; a straightforwardness that is both welcoming and extremely easy to follow, especially for younger audiences. Directed and co-scripted by Nicolas Vanier, the film might best be described as the French version of Lassie, set against a gorgeous backdrop of wide open spaces and picturesque mountain tops of the French Alps. Watching young Sebastian – whose boyish charm and youthful innocence is wonderfully embraced by the young French actor – bonding with his equally beautiful Pyrenean Mountain Dog is both easy and nourishing to the soul, in a way. The adventures and threats they face, as they slowly learn to trust each other, are engaging and prove to be a strengthening exercise for what is to become an unbreakable bond.
Simple and charming, Belle & Sebastian is not without fault, but still has plenty of lovable traits that come together to form a warm and largely undemanding view.