Stylish in its simplicity, the short animated film “French Roast” begins with a filthy beggar wandering the streets of Paris, plying his dependent trade. The camera pulls back to reveal that we are watching the beggar from a wide mirror of a small French café, where a self-important businessman sits reading the paper with a Frankenstein of a waiter patiently waiting on him.
The beggar enters the café and demands attention and alms from the businessman, who cringes and waves him away. The waiter brings the man a coffee and his bill. He reaches inside his coat pocket…but where is his wallet?
The conflict pins the man to his seat, as we watch him degenerate into actions he would never have dreamed he might take. He can’t leave, because that would be theft, but he can’t pay. His fear of humiliation pins him there through cup after cup after cup of coffee and his bill gets longer and longer. Others become entwined in his desperate search for a way out. His spiritual descent into a French version of hell, all viewed from the same seat and from the mirrors of the café, ends in a surprising and condemning, yet ever elegant, role reversal.
The visual look of the short film was soft and muted, with a romantic rundown elegance. Details such as the hair of the beggar, notoriously difficult to render in CGI, were excellently done. The falling lamp and the atmosphere of the French café itself echoed the main character’s inner moral decay beneath the exterior respectable facade. He goes from calm and confident to desperate, all sense of right and wrong turned on its head in his quiet struggle to free himself without losing face. The characters were unique, from the waiter to the drunken bumbling police chief to the narcoleptic nun.
French director Fabrice Joubert has an impressive resume, having both worked at DreamWorks Studios and Aardman Productions, the producer of the Wallace and Gromit films. The story of “French Roast”, he says, grew out of his love for Paris, where he has often lived and worked. The preparation of the story took only a few months, but the animation, modeling and texturing of the full short film took a year, with a total team of 65 artists and technicians. In addition to being nominated for an Academy Award in 2010, the film also won “Best of Show” at SIGGRAPH in New Orleans.
The animated short film “French Roast” from Pumpkin Studios is excellent, a delicate piece of animation, like a china coffee cup, that is at once burning with questions of human behavior, as well as an exquisite delight. The entire short film runs a little over 8 minutes, and can be seen at YouTube.
Hazed, Ramin. Fabrice O. Joubert, Director, “French Roast”. Animation Magazine. 12 Aug 2009. http://www.animationmagazine.net/article/10460