Joann Sfar is the director of Gainsbourg, Une Vie Heroique, a film that I loved immensely, one of the best I have seen lately. I was not astonished to learn that his Jewish origins are doubled by some Belgian identity, as he is a well known author of bandes dessinees. The character of one of his most popular series – the rabbi’s cat is coming now to screens and we spent a couple of hours in our last day in Paris to see this 3-D animated movie. If you are curious about Sfar and his (small) world see his blog Le Petit Monde de Joann Sfar at Some of his other heroes are Chagall and Brassens.


The story is set in the Algiers of the 30s and the characters are the strongest side of the film. Rabbi Sfar is one of these venerated figures of Sephardi rabbis we would like to see more in real life. He is wise and has a great sense of humor, is tolerant and his best friend is the Muslim sheik  Mohammed Sfar (of course, a mirror of himself in tolerance and ecumenicism), he gladly bends the strict rules of Judaic conversions when faced with true love and even pardons the cat who has swallowed his beloved parrot just because it got the divine gift of speaking. The ideal rabbi.


Although we get too little time to know the other characters in the story we are already charmed by the daughter of the rabbi and we hope to meet her in the next episodes of what must become a series. A few other colored characters embark in a cross-African adventure with Indiana Jones flavored promises in the search of the ideal Jewish city where pure Jewishness and proud independence is to be found. Short after the city is found and proves to be a militaristic fortress (any hint with present tense on the responsibility of the viewer) the movie quite abruptly ends. So it must have a continuation, as almost nothing is solved from a characters or story development, and as the action happens in the 30s we now know too well what happened to the Jewish world in the 40s.

(video source ucgdistribution)

The film has a lot of charm and a lot of flaws. I loved the way it is drawn, which descends from the best French and Belgian tradition in the genre. The 3-D effects seem under-used, and I do not think it will make much difference to see this film in 2-D. The characters are interesting and as a viewer you start caring for some of them almost as soon as they show up on screen. The Jewish world of North Africa is well rendered, and the story of the Russian refugee has a touch of Chagall. The message of tolerance and understanding between faith may be naive but such a message is never preached too often. It is exactly the action component so string in other films of the genre which is missing in this movie, or maybe this was just a prelude, in which case I would preferred to see it together with the first and maybe second episode in the series.