When it comes to films, I don’t often experience serendipity. When I decide to buy a ticket for a screening I always know what I want to see and it’s very rare for me to change my mind at the latest minute. Yet on 26 June I was forced to do so. I wanted to watch Who Is Dayani Cristal? at Rich Mix cinema but when I arrived at the venue I discovered that the screening was already sold out (yes, my bad, I didn’t book online). Since I didn’t want to come home and waste over an hour in useless commuting, I checked which film was next on the programme.
The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet was scheduled to start within the next five minutes. I had never heard of it (again, my bad: it was heavily advertised in London but the posters and billboards didn’t catch my eye). But I knew Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s previous works and quickly read this synopsis provided by Rich Mix: “An amusing and poignant work about a child prodigy with a very dark secret trying to make sense of the weirdness of the world on a road trip to Washington.”
I admit that I wasn’t particularly interested in the story in itself (which at first sounds a little bit cliché), but I wanted to see how Jeunet’s signature style dealt with a story conceived for 3D projection. So I decided to check my feeling with my destiny and bought the ticket. To my surprise, I discovered a sweet, on the road tale, shot in a masterly manner by Director of Photography Thomas Hardmeier. He deservedly won a César Award for his cinematography in this film and managed to enhance the beauty of American landscape (although the film was mainly shot in Québec), avoiding the look and feel of picture postcards. If you like technical details, you can read an article here about visual references and how Hardmeier worked with Alexa cameras.
3D sequences were naturally integrated into the story and used to visually depict the complexity of scientific ideas, machines and inventions, and also to convey the richness of a child’s mind. As stereographer Demetri Portelli told The Hollywood Reporter, “Jeunet uses the layers as an added tool into the psychology of the character and for a personal connection to the audience that other films have not exploited.”
Although the director admitted that “3D can kill a director”, I think that in this case it intensified his visual style and lightened his taste for the surreal, which in the past got too close to mannerism (if you’re interested in discovering how Jeunet adapted Reif Larsen’s book The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, a series of videos on the making of the film is available on the official site).
Questioning the sense of belonging, family and the place of dreams in real life, The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet also suggests new and non-invasive ideas to better integrate technology into an intimate and delicate story, without necessarily assaulting the audience in order to justify the use of stereoscopic photography.
Some final notes on characters: T. S. is portrayed by Kyle Catlett, whose feature debut is astounding; his family clearly represents to me the different souls of America. The legacy of life in the wilderness is embodied by his father, a quiet cowboy; the apparent limitless and self-absorbing power of rational thought is personified by his mother, a scientist, performed by Helena Bonham Carter; and his sister deals with the obsession of beauty and fame, while the regret for past times and lost opportunities appears as the ghost of his brother.