Director Olivier Dahan
made a big impression with his first full-length feature, a film noir entitled "Already Dead". His eagerly awaited second movie, "Le Petit Poucet" ("Tom Thumb"), moves from one genre to another. This time he has made a horror movie, but a horror movie with a twist -- it is seemingly aimed at children.
"Le Petit Poucet" is based on a children's story by Charles Perrault
, but moviegoers expecting a Disney-like tale of simple folk will be sorely disappointed. The movie opened strongly with more than 50,000 admissions on the first day with audiences undoubtedly drawn by the glittering cast of Catherine Deneuve
, Romane Bohringer
and Samy Naceri.
Poucet (Nils Hugon
) is the youngest of five brothers born to a desperately poor peasant family. The mother (Bohringer) and father (Pierre Berriau
) struggle to feed the family. Then war is declared and all food is requisitioned, first by the enemy and then by the government.
The parents decide they would rather leave the children to fend for themselves in the forest than watch them die of hunger. Poucet overhears their plan and manages to save his brothers by leaving a trail they follow back home. A second attempt at abandoning the children is more successful and Poucet and his brothers are caught up in a spine-chilling adventure that includes baying wolves and a child-eating ogre. This being a fairy-tale, the ending is predictably happy ever after, but not before an average 6-year-old will be screaming to go home.
Dahan shot the movie entirely in the studio, doing his best to create a somber mood. This is a twilight world never troubled with sunlight. The sky is either slate gray or blood red and the forest is a mist-soaked, foreboding place.
Into this hellish existence, Dahan drops two horrific characters: a soldier with an iron leg (Naceri), who wants to burn the children to death on a bonfire, and a seven-foot tall-ogre (Dominque Hulin) who wears an iron mask with huge metal fangs.
Classic children's stories are no stranger to frightening characters and base their very existence on a panoply of witches, giants, ogres and wolves. But there is a huge difference between fear and terror. "Le Petit Poucet" relies heavily on well-honed, horror-movie techniques. In one scene, where the ogre stabs his own daughters to death, the shot of the flashing knife is accompanied by a pastiche of the music from the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Dahan demands of a young audience a maturity and sophistication that is beyond their capabilities.
The younger members of the cast perform well and appear suitably terrified, although one asks just how much of this is due to their acting ability. The adult actors are required to do very little and are often upstaged by costumes and makeup. Dahan would have done well to pay less attention to form and more to content.
LE PETIT POUCET
Producer: Eric Neve
Director: Olivier Dahan
Writers: Olivier Dahan
, Agnes Fustier-Dahan
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Set designer: Michel Barthelemy
Costume designer: Gigi Lepage
Editor: Juliette Welfling
Poucet: Nils Hugon
Rose: Hanna Berthault
Poucet's mother: Romane Bohringer
Poucet's father: Pierre Berriau
Ogre: Dominque Hulin
Ogre's wife: Elodie Bouchez
Soldier with iron leg: Samy Naceri
The Queen: Catherine Deneuve
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPPA rating