LIFF28 - Cartoonists: Footsoldiers Of Democracy - Cinema Review

'the lines between and discussions surrounding the important concepts of reasonableness, free speech, political correctness, censorship, playing with race vs racism, self-censorship and more are exactly where Cartoonists pitches its tent'

Stéphanie Valloatto's début feature, Caricaturistes, fantassins de la démocratie, or, Cartoonists: Footsoldiers Of Democracy might have too much reverence for its subjects, but that doesn't mean that it does not present a compelling documentary proposition.

In fact, the perhaps unintended outcome of this occasionally fawning look at political cartoonists is that Valloatto gives her subjects the rope with which to hang themselves. Verdu, for instance, a French cartoonist at the centre of the twelve individual artists here, shows himself to at times be a pompous oaf, callously confusing free speech with saying whatever he wants, to whomever he wants, whenever he wants. That, late on in the film, he cannot see why people might take offence to his casually racist Jewish stereotypes is indicative of his outlook.

If the liberal in you bristles at any part of the above then fear not: the lines between and discussions surrounding important concepts and definitions of reasonableness, free speech, political correctness, censorship, playing with race vs racism, self-censorship and more are exactly where Cartoonists pitches its tent. This isn't so much a film about artists as a film about the difficulty in communicating in the modern world. Like Plantu, all of us have the ability to make mistakes, to be insensitive and, in his own words, 'self-centred'. When that happens with us, as with the cartoonists, it is that mistake, or that message, which observers seize on. The sometimes more important communication - the resistance, the ground level democracy, the willingness to engage, the attempt to understand - is lost beneath the perfectly natural calamity. We all annoy people with our ideas: what happens when those people happen to be heads of state? How do we communicate to them when we are annoyed?

Having portrayed and examined those concepts so well in her twelve interviews, it is a little bit of a shame that Valloatto gives so little time to the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, surely the most controversial cartoon-related incident of recent years, possibly ever. Were they the result of deliberate blasphemy, cultural insensitivity, free speech over political correctness, or something else? Did their message justify the means, the shock tactics, the depictions? What was the outcome in terms of how we discuss the issues the cartoons, and the conversation around them, raised? Do not expect to leave Cartoonists any the wiser on any of those questions, although they are considered in a wider sense. It feels somewhat like a deliberate duck.

At one-hundred and six minutes, Valloatto's film is not short, but the overall quality of the discussions - and the fact that the film does feel like a discussion - justifies a much longer runtime. Each of the twelve voices included has something to add, so you can understand why none were dropped, perhaps just more time with each was needed. It is certainly justified.

What is here though emerges as well worked and, whether deliberately or accidentally, well rounded. The film also marks the start of what I suspect may become a 2014-2017 or so trend: drone shots as an affordable way of providing expansive high angles. If this is how the sweeping city shots were achieved, and I can see few alternatives, then Valloatto deserves praise in this particular area: they look lovely and I suspect they are here to stay in many forms of budget film-making.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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