The Man Who Planted Trees is a beautiful Canadian short animated film, based on the 1953 story of the same name by Jean Giono. It was originally released in two versions - French and English - narrated respectively by noted actors Phillippe Noiret and Christopher Plummer. Plummer’s oratory is sublime, relaying the poetic writing in the most pleasant of tones.
It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1988, and competed for the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1987.
I have already seen well over 100 films in 2014 and this incomparable, magnificently animated masterpiece is by far the most profound and affecting of them all.
On a brief tangent, it makes me think about my visits to Kinokuniya Books in Sydney city. I always catch sight of a review by one of the staff declaring that Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is the best book available in a store of over 300,000 books. It is a great book, but I feel similarly about this film. In the sea of films in existence, I can highly recommend this serene and inspiring story. It is absolutely breathtaking. I will make it essential annual viewing for the rest of my life to remind myself of mankind’s potential for extraordinary feats.
The Man Who Planted Trees tells the story of a shepherd who repairs the ruined ecosystem of a desolate and secluded valley by singlehandedly cultivating a forest over a period of decades. We learn of the shepherd, named Elezeard Bouffier, through a young narrator, who seeks shelter after a wearying day of travelling. The next morning he accompanies Bouffier on his travels and learns of his unparalleled dedication to selfless labour, an extraordinarily ambitious and seemingly impossible undertaking.
Years pass and the narrator returns to meet with Bouffier and observe the results of his efforts. He has created a thriving oasis that would capture the admiration of future generations, and offering a calming contrast to the two world wars that raged over the course of the period.
Back’s stunning pastel illustrations morph and evolve effortlessly, allowing more narrative to pass by the screen than most feature films. As the passing of time and the evolution in nature is such an essential feature, what more effective way to demonstrate it than to shift the image to resemble the changing landscape and the aging of the characters.
The Man Who Planted Trees is a rare work of profound storytelling and perfected style and demonstrates the extraordinary power of the individual and the difference a lone human being can make on this earth. With the world constantly taking a battering, we bear privileged witness to the effects of one man’s enduring efforts to preserve and improve it.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22