Corto Maltese review

:. Director: Pascal Morelli
:. Starring: Richard Berry, Patrick Bouchitey
:. Running Time: 1:32
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: France


If you're not familiar with Hugo Pratt's universe, if you only swear by the jokes of the Dreamworks' ogre, Miyazaki's dreamlike princesses, or Disney's Christmas "ornaments", then carry on. This adaptation of the adventures of Corto Maltese, a mythical figure of comics, risks disappointing the neophytes. This ecstatic dive into a universe set halfway between history and romantic poetry cannot be compared to current animated productions and is intended for sensitive souls in the audience.

The first adventures of the gentleman sailor (born in 1877 in Malta) started in 1905 in the album la Jeunesse. The son of a British officer and a Spanish gypsy, Corto is not only crossing the path of future great historic figures, from Jack London to Joseph Stalin (then called Djougatchvili) and Butch Cassidy. This is one of Pratt's brilliant tricks, making his hero credible by giving him a life, an existence, a body and a soul by anchoring his adventures in History.

The adventure brought to the big screen is inspired by one of his best books, Corto Maltese in Siberia. The gentleman pirate is entrusted for a mission by a Chinese secret society, the Red Lanterns: to seize gold being transported on a train through the snowy steppes of Manchuria and Mongolia. Set in the background of the Russian Revolution of 1919, with an abundance of fights between Bolsheviks and Imperial troops, Corto searches for the treasure. In the process he meets his accomplice and negative alter ego Rasputin, the young and beautiful revolutionary Changaï Li, as well as Jack Tippit, an officer of the United States Air Force and the suspicious duchess Marina Seminova.

Like any adaptation, the wager resides in the balance between fidelity to the original spirit and personification of the myth. The project faced many challenges such as animating fixed characters and bringing color to a black and white universe. And it's a success, Pratt's heroes move in rich, colorful and highly detailed landscapes.

In particular the cities Venice and Shanghai possess the perfume of the era and a nonchalance that hides the forgotten conspiracies of history. The snows of Siberia's seem to cross the screen and whip the faces in the audience. The result is not only credible but a success aesthetically.

One could reproach a lack of fluidity in the movements of the characters, and the disproportion of the silhouettes. However, these choices constitute the most effective solution to stick to Pratt's style and to reproduce Corto's rangy grace. The jerky and slow movements of the characters add to the poetry of the ensemble. The few action scenes that are violent and bloody might break the rhythm but don't lack poetry, as poetry can indeed be cruel in the middle of contemplative moments.

In addition, the characters themselves—adventurers, dandies and esthetes—know how to deliver some good lines and deadpan jokes in the middle of a shoot-out. In Corto's world, black humor and violence go together. For this reason, Patrick Bouchitey's voice is a perfect match for Raspoutine, a cynical, bloodthirsty pirate with great sensitivity. On the other hand, Richard Berry as Corto divides the audience. His voice translates the intelligence of the character with difficulty. Fortunately, after a while, his personality erases his terseness.

For fans, Casterman Editions published a book illustrating the behind-the-scenes of the shooting of Corto Maltese, La Cour Secrète des Arcanes.

  span class="mainauthor">Moland Fengkov

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