A 1957 Chevy Bel Air performs an ironic take on the American ballad “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” The radiator grille morphs into a cajoling pair of lips, crooning the reassuring rhymes, while a spectacularly choreographed choir of cars sings backup. A scathing satire of the power of Big Oil, Carface is musical comedy on a grand scale, with filmmaker and cartoonist Claude Cloutier skewering carefree contemporary attitudes toward the threats to our planet.
How did Carface come about?
In a way, it is a fairly old project. I have been drawing scrap cars for a long time – scrap cars that are actually hybrid creatures, half-mechanical, half-animal, emerging from the earth. After From the Big Bang to Tuesday Morning, I wanted to make a film inspired by these drawings, but I decided to parody a classic tale instead. My producer at the time wanted a funny film, so I took the opportunity to stay in line with the cartoons I did in Gilles la Jungle contre Méchant-Man, namely, a complete parody. That is where Sleeping Betty came from. When Sleeping Betty was completed, it was suggested that I make a film on World War I. So I renewed the idea of creatures rising from the ground: in the second part of the film, there are soldiers emerging in a violent bubbling of the earth. What were left were cars. I love the modern and elegant lines of cars from the 1950s and 1960s. It is also a time that corresponds to the golden age of American musicals. So I had the idea to combine these two elements to make a musical featuring beautiful cars.
What was the film’s main challenge?
To bring these objects to life. The cars are drawn very realistically; they are complex objects that must be moved and animated. I soon decided that it was essential that I make these cars sing and that their lips be perfectly synchronised. Just that is a huge amount of work!
Then, a musical requires elaborate staging, with bold camera angles, dancing, etc. In animated cartoon, this means an enormous amount of perspective, complex movements, and animated elements… It is the kind of film that would have been easier to make with 3D software, that is, it would have been easier to move the cars if they had been modelled.
But I am not a 3D modeller. What distinguishes me is my drawings. It is through my drawings that one recognises me; it is through my drawings that I speak. I would not have done the film otherwise.
Carface is an environmental fable. It is a film whose mind seems quite close to that of the From the Big Bang to Tuesday Morning.
I think it is fair to compare the two. First, there is this relationship to music, which is structural in both cases. Then, there is the fact that while comedy and humour affect the films’ outlooks, the subjects are still serious: evolution in Big Bang…, the oil paradigm in Carface. The difference lies in that the two films take opposite paths. On one hand, Big Bang… begins rather solemnly with an underwater sequence, and then ends in lightness with absurd massacres through the ages. Carface, on the other hand, opens in utter heedlessness and becomes gradually overwhelmed with the weight of environmental disaster. The more the film progresses, the more critical discourse is built directly into the derailing musical act.
Are you interested in science?
Very much! In science, technology, history. They feed my films. Even in Sleeping Betty, there are jokes about the British monarchy and art history.
And the environment?
The environmental discourse is undoubtedly something that one will take away from Carface, because it is what comes out in the end, but I did not plan on making the film with that angle in mind. My original approach was more historical, aesthetical and technical. There is a historical connection between cars and the climax of the musical genre: the golden age of big cars ended with the 1971 oil crisis, and musicals were virtually wiped out around 1968 with the arrival of New Hollywood. The environmental discourse followed when I wanted to organise the narrative. All the elements came together through this discourse. I obviously agree with the film’s subject, but those who know me know that I am not an activist. I am a filmmaker and a cartoonist. I make films and books. Carface raises environmental issues the same way that The Trenches had a pacifist discourse. I probably will not be making another film on war or the environment… In general, I am a humanist, and that surely affects the way I see things.
The cartoons that made you famous are very funny. In fact, you got into cinema by adapting one of them, La légende des Jean-Guy, which became The Persistent Peddler. But since then, you have only made one really funny film, Sleeping Betty, which was very successful. There are funny elements in your other films—with the exception of The Trenches—, but comedy is not at the forefront. Is there tension in your relationship between comedy and drama?
I would like to do more real comedy, but it is hard to see just how difficult it is to undertake a purely funny movie in our context of production. When seeking funding, when trying to convince investors or television stations, it often feels like you are being assessed on the basis of subject. By nature, my sense of humour is absurd rather than social. The funniest things I made played on narrative codes, on language, on outlandish or even ludicrous situations. When you find yourself competing with all kinds of projects that focus on important matters, projects that speak of the world we live in and address critical social issues, it is difficult to stand out and get funding by simply being funny. After I made Sleeping Betty, I submitted a project entitled L’odyssée de Buffalo Gilles, a straightforward comedy in the same spirit as Betty… but I did not get funding. I still care about the project, but it will not be my next film.
What will be your next film?
It is called Mauvaise herbe. I am probably making it in reaction to Carface. I spent years drawing cars, so now I will draw plants and flies. It frees my mind when I think that I am going to draw organic beings that are less complex and move more naturally. The film takes place in an enclosed area where two carnivorous plants compete for flies that venture into their territory. See, if we dig a little deeper we realise that the issues of natural resources and war are still at play, which brings us back toCarface and The Trenches. It might turn out to be a pacifist AND an environmental film, which contradicts what I said earlier. But then again, that is not the starting point. The starting point is graphic.
The National Film Board of Canada presents
Direction, Script, Animation
Composer of the adaptation
“Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)”
Written by: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans
Universal Music Publishing
a division of
Universal Music Canada Inc.
Valérie Jodoin Keaton
Andrée-Isabelle Ntibarikure (Aiza)
Guido Del Fabbro
Technical Director and Head Coloration
Computer Graphic Designers
Oana SuteuCanada Council for the Arts (Research)
With the participation of ARTE France
Film Program Unit
Short Film Program Manager
French Animation Studio