Belle and Sebastian Parent Review
A tiny village in the French Alps is so isolated it hardly seems worthy of notice. Yet its proximity to Switzerland has attracted the attention of the Nazi’s, who have stationed a small troop of soldiers there to watch the comings and goings of the locals. With World War II raging around them, Lieutenant Peter (Andreas Pietschmann) has strict instructions to root out any persons who might be aiding Jews to escape across the Swiss boarder.
The residents do not appreciate the special attention they are getting. Nor are they happy about the harassment they have to endure from the military men who help themselves to shop goods and other supplies while flirting with the one pretty, single woman in town (Margaux Châtelier). Added to their problems is a runaway dog that has become vicious and is menacing their flocks. While they can’t do much about the army’s presence, they can at least organize hunting parties to kill “The Beast” before it destroys any more of their sheep.
But that plan doesn’t sit well with six-year-old Sebastian (Félix Bossuetz). The parentless child, who has been taken in by Caesar (Tchéky Karyo), tends to run wild himself thanks to the alcoholic tendencies of his surrogate grandfather. Understanding what it feels like to be a stray, the youngster has a great deal of empathy for the previously abused animal. So Sebastian sets out to find and tame the enormous mountain mutt.
Based on a French children’s novel by Cécile Aubry, Belle and Sebastian is a classic boy-and-his-dog story. As expected, these misfits develop a loyalty to one another while wandering in the beautiful landscape. Of course their friendship is in complete defiance of Sebastian’s caregiver and the townsfolk’s desire to rid the area of the dangerous canine. The pair also crosses paths with those who are smuggling refugees out of the country. This is of great concern to the individuals involved, because they need to keep their movements a secret and not arouse the suspicions of the Germans.
Despite the perilous situations the characters are faced with, the movie keeps most of the action from becoming too intense. However, the threats Belle the dog faces, like being hunted down and shot (a bloody wound is shown), are likely to be disturbing for little ones. Other concerns include depictions of various animals being killed, a death-defying rescue mission where a boy is dangled by a rope over a cliff, threats from soldiers and an adult who betrays a child’s trust.
This French production is available with English subtitles, or with an English language track. While the latter makes little effort with lip-sync, and is lacking strong dramatic performances, it is probably the preferred choice for sharing the film with English speaking audiences – especially those who might find reading while watching a challenge. Beautifully shot, the movie shares messages of about pitfalls of misjudging others, whether they are animal or human. As well it provides an opportunity to talk about the war, the plight of the Jews and the courage of those who risked their own lives to help them. Older children and tweens, especially those with puppy love, will find this simple script to be a tail-wagging tale.Directed by Nicolas Vanier. Starring Félix Bossuet, Tchéky Karyo, Margaux Châtelier. Running time: 99 minutes. Updated August 26, 2015
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Belle and Sebastian here.
Belle and Sebastian Parents Guide
Talk about the movie with your family…
Caesar is criticized for not putting Sebastian in school. Why do you think he lets the boy run wild? What disadvantages does the youngster face because of his lack of education? How might attending classes affect Sebastian’s sense of security and belonging in the community?
What common feelings draw Belle and Sebastian to each other? How can a dog fulfill the role of best friend in someone’s life? In what ways are they able to help each other? Where do you turn for acceptance and understanding?
Why does Caesar lie or withhold information from Sebastian? How does that impact their relationship? What things do you think they need to do to repair the damage that has been done? How can you mend broken relationships in your life?
Why did common citizens risk their lives to help Jewish refuges? Learn more about World War II, the French occupation and the French Resistance movement.
From the Studio: BELLE AND SEBASTIAN follows the courageous adventures of a young boy and his giant sheepdog amidst the stunning backdrop of the snow-covered Alps. In WWII-occupied France, on the border of Switzerland, six-year-old Sebastian tames the enormous, yet gentle mountain dog Belle, who, despite the fears of the local villagers, becomes his best friend and protector. When the Nazis arrive and begin rooting out resistance members and Jewish refugees, Belle and Sebastian prove their loyalty – to the village and each other – when they undertake a treacherous journey to help the cause.