Benjamin Renner, Co-director of ERNEST & CELESTINE : Finding His Own Language

January 31, 2014 | By Romain Rancurel
Benjamin Renner

On the occasion of Ernest & Célestine’s US release, we were fortunate enough to ask Benjamin Renner, co-director of the film, a few questions about his film.

Romain Rancurel: First of all, congratulations for your many awards and nominations such as your recent Oscar nomination and for the great success Ernest & Célestine has enjoyed at the box office. This is your first feature film and you chose to work with two other filmmakers, Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier. Can you talk about that collaborative process and about the division of roles and responsibilities between the three of you?

Benjamin Renner: Vincent and Stephane arrived on the project after I had been working on it for several months. I was supposed to focus on the artistic direction of the film, and they were supposed to work on the narrative aspects of the film. But actually when we met, we started sharing a lot about how the story should be told. The truth is, everyone was bringing their best to the film, not assuming a predetermined role.

RR: You recently spoke about your admiration for Japanese anime and for Hayao Miyazaki in particular. Working on Ernest & Célestine, you were also really respectful of Gabrielle Vincent’s original drawings. Can you tell us a bit more on your influences and how you have studied the work of others to create your own style?

BR: I'm a big admirer of Miyazaki's work, like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, and also of Takahata's films, such as My Neighboors the Yamadas and Only Yesterday. Of course, as I love the emotional impact of their films, they were a big influence in terms of pacing, rhythm of animation, and choice of mise en scene. With all these influences, it took me quite a long time before I could find my own language. But I guess it's something you learn while making a film, you have to experience different ways of directing a scene, how the actors should act, try this way that is more comedic, or maybe try this way that is more dramatic. At some point, I felt the film was coming to life, taking its own independence.

RR: Daniel Pennac’s story is a beautiful message of reconciliation and love. While working on the movie, did you have the impression of making a children’s film or an adult film? Perhaps a bit of both ?

BR: When I heard the story for the first time from Daniel Pennac, I really loved it and I was an adult. And since I was a kid, I have always appreciated adult and children's films equally. Or, to be more precise, I've always appreciated films that can connect with both adults and children. I think Michel Tournier said that a good book is a book that children can appreciate, and I totally agree with that. I followed the principle on Ernest and Celestine and tried to do a film that would please anyone who would watch it, whatever their age.

RR: You have enjoyed great success on your first feature film. What are your plans for the future? Are you already working on other projects?

BR: I'm planning to work on new animated features, but I would like to open myself up to other mediums like interactive stories and graphic novels. Right now, I'm working on a graphic novel and developing different animation projects. I'm crossing my fingers that they will be born one day.

Benjamin Renner attended the Fine Arts School of Angoulême before finishing his studies with a two-year course at the anim­a­tion film-directing school La Poudrière in France. There he dir­ec­ted his gradu­ation film A Mouse’s Tale (2008), for which he was nominated to the “Best animated Film” at the 2012 César. Shortly after that, he got to direct his first anim­ated fea­ture film pro­ject, as co-director of Ernest & Célestine together with Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier. Ernest & Célestine won the 2013 César for “Best animated Film” and has recently been nominated for the 2014 Oscars.

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