A family-friendly animated feature film from Germany, set in Nice, explores if birds of different feathers flock together anyway
In Nice, seagulls have pretty bad press. For years the city has been on a crusade against these large birds which have taken over the quarters close to the beach without much trepidation. It was certainly not the intention of Luxx Studios, the German film animation company, to become their French PR agency and polish their image… but when Niçois moviegoers watch the studio’s feature film telling the touching story of Manou the Swift and his seagull family, they might just about change their mind about them.
The computer-animated story, suitable for very young audiences, takes us back to Nice, 1963: Born on a rock high above town, Manou is an orphaned swift who is raised by Yves and Blanche, his adoptive seagull parents. He grows up unaware that he is not one of them… the truth only hits him when he finds out that he has no talent whatsoever to swim, fish, and fly like his family. Swifts and seagulls don’t like each other very much but his family stands by him, especially his adoring brother Luc.
As Manou fumbles his way through adolescence, trouble is brewing: rats steal the eggs of swifts and a big storm threatens the seagulls. But he rises to the occasion, heroically mobilizing the best traits of resourceful swifts and courageous seagulls. And along the way, he falls in love with Kalifa, a stunning lady swift….
A sweet story with a gently packaged moral, “being different is a strength, and a way to meet strangers and learn from them.” This 88 minute animation may predominantly target children but it doesn’t sacrifice cinematographic quality: It comes from the visual effect creators of box office hits like “Grand Budapest Hotel”, “White House Down” and “Independence Day 2.” The setting on the Mediterranean coast with sweeping vistas of the Baie des Anges, Promenade des Anglais, Cours Saleya, Old Town and Castle Hill provides the stunning backdrop, and the year – 1963 – is a nostalgic throwback to a quieter, gentler, more romantic Nice.
Picturesque as Nice is, what made this German animation production house choose this city of all places? Well, it turns out there is a personal story behind it. In July 2007, directors and producers Andrea Block and Christian Haas (pictured above with film composer Frank Schreiber) spent a sailing holiday in the South of France when a strong wind from Provence forced them on land for two days. Climbing up to the waterfall of Colline du Château, they watched seagulls elegantly gliding in the wind. On the other side of the rock, facing the hills, they discovered the acrobatic dance of swifts. It was right then and there that the idea for this movie was born.
After years of research into the contrast between urbane southern French city living and the wilderness of the Provençal hinterland, this ode to the Côte d’Azur came into being, celebrating its old-time splendor. The look and feel of the animation is reminiscent of Impressionist painters, emphasizing the distinctive light and colors that make the Côte d’Azur so special. Many top shelf actors have lent their voices to the animated characters, among them Kate Winslet (Blanche), Willem Dafoe (Yves) and Josh Keaton (Manou) in the English version, and Camilla Jordana and Vincent Dedienne in the French one.
Andrea Block, Christian Haas, and fellow writer Axel Melzener wanted to create a universal, entertaining story that subliminally taps into current topics. Manou the Swift is a modern fable about strangers becoming friends, growing up together, and finding love… which translates to integration. In view of the many refugees from Syria, Egypt and other crisis regions currently seeking protection throughout Europe, the makers of this movie consider children the key to bridging differences.
Since its world premiere in Bulgaria in January 2019, Manou the Swift has landed in 13 countries around the globe, including France in early July (here called “Manou à l’École des Goélands”.) And it turns out that the French do like seagulls, catapulting the movie to current third place in its global box office listings within just a couple of weeks. Upcoming openings in the UK and Ireland are scheduled for July 26.
Currently playing in cinemas across France – check local listings for a screening near you (in French only).
All images courtesy and © Luxx Film