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Gwen, or the Book of Sand

Entry updated 29 November 2021. Tagged: Film.

French animated film (1985; original title Gwen, ou le livre de sable; vt Gwen, the Book of Sand; vt Gwen; vt Gwen and the Book of Sand). La Fabrique, Films de la Demoiselle, Antenne 2. Directed by Jean-François Laguionie. Written by Jean-Pierre Gaspari and Jean-François Laguionie. Voice cast includes Armand Babel, Lorella Di Cicco, Raymond Jourdan and Michel Robin. 61 minutes. Colour.

Roseline (Robin), a 173-year-old woman, recalls a tale her father told: of how, when the gods (see Gods and Demons) went away, a storm scourged the world which turned to sand (see Disaster). They also left something terrible in the north: the Makou, "keeper of the sand language", which awaits their return. In the desert her people, Tuaregs – or others who have adopted a similar culture – survive: stilt-walkers (echoing the shepherds of Landes) who subsist on ostrich tail feathers. Every full moon they hide as the Makou flies over the desert depositing suitcases, filing cabinets, shoes, pillows, motorbikes and suchlike; most are enormous.

The tribe find and adopt a child, Gwen (Di Cicco). Some years later, when she and Nokmoon, Roseline's silent son, stay on the surface during a full moon, Nokmoon is taken by the Makou: Roseline and Gwen head north to recover him. They find a landscape of giant discarded household objects: at the centre is a run-down settlement adjoining Makou's pit. The inhabitants maintain the past by worshipping an old mail-order catalogue, their twin priests (Babel, Jourdan) give readings of its contents – "stainless steel watering can ..." – which a masked choir then sings. The Makou responds by creating those items, though not to scale. The priests are caring for Nokmoon, whose visible dreams they consider divinely inspired. One is of a spiral, which they interpret as an image from the catalogue – a catherine wheel; they urge the choir to sing the text "Fireworks, full of lights and joy", which incites Makou to create a firework display ... causing mass panic. Gwen rescues Nokmoon and they return with Roseline to their tribe. The religion surrounding the Makou now having disbanded, objects no longer rain down onto the desert, where life is now peaceful.

Who the "gods" were – Aliens, humanity leaving for the stars or a technologically advanced Earth civilization that collapsed – is left unanswered, though they clearly did something that traumatized the planet. Despite its Post-Holocaust setting, bizarre Religion, powerful being and rescue plot, this is a fairly calm, meditative work; reflected in its subdued but often beautiful pastel artwork. There are no real antagonists: the priests are well-meaning and kind to Nokmoon, whilst the Makou is not sentient, being something made (a glowing cloud) that responds to humanity's requests. Though the characterization is a little flat, this is a likeable, charming work with a gentle anti-capitalist message (see Satire, Politics): sf with a Magic Realism edge, where ostriches sing and have nutritious feathers. [SP]


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