In a village where there is a great deal of time (there are months whose days are numbered in the 40s), the local witch gives birth to the title character. Twenty years later, Babine is the Village Idiot. Though he is a thoroughly gentle soul, he also becomes the scapegoat for every ill, real or imagined, that befalls the villagers. Fortunately, he has some champions, including Toussaint Brodeur (played by director Luc Picard), the local fly-raiser. But then the church burns down, and terrible trouble looms for Babine in the person of the new, fanatical village priest.
Obviously, as the above synopsis suggests, we are in the realm of the utterly fantastic here. Narrated by storyteller Fred Pellerin, whose tales form the basis of the script, Babine is endlessly inventive, at the cost of being a bit too episodic for its own good (something that Picard, during his commentary track, admits he struggled with) and giving short shrift to some of its striking characters. There is no denying, however, that its world-creation is very successful. The film is a visual feast, one very much on par with the likes of Tim Burton, and this achieved with a fraction of the budget of its Hollywood equivalent.
Given how much love and attention has been lavished on the cinematography, one would hope for a first-rate transfer, and fortunately, those hopes are handsomely rewarded. The colours are rich, the blacks deep, and the contrasts and flesh tones superb. There is no grain, and the night scenes are never murky. The look of the image belongs to a heightened reality, and that is exactly as things should be.
The sound is similarly sumptuous. The 5.1 track gets off with a bang during Babine’s birth, as the witch’s cries and a thunderstorm roar at the viewer from all sides. If anything, the surround is a little bit too enthusiastic, as there are times when the rear speakers threaten to overwhelm the front.
Commentary Tracks: There are two of them, one from Picard, one from Pellerin. Both are in French with no subtitles. Pellerin cheerfully admits that he knows very little about filmmaking, and so his track is filled with a kind of boyish wonder at the magic of the movie-producing process. Picard’s track, by contrast, provides plenty of technical explanations, but he doesn’t leave behind narrative and thematic concerns.
Babine: La Fabrication du Grandiose: (44:14) An in-depth making-of, featuring tons of behind-the-scenes footage along with cast and crew interviews. Like the commentary tracks, it’s in French with no subtitles.
This is a film that is very of its place – Québec – and its language games and cultural references might make it a bit inaccessible to audiences elsewhere. But it remains an impressive work.