Long time devotees of Alain Bidard‘s works will love his latest movie, Opal. Most of this filmmaker’s catalogue of works played at Fantasia, and his last film was Battledream Chronicle. This movie is his second feature and his past works are often complex fairy tales. This film looks at why a young princess (Dawn-Lissa Mystille) named after a crystal is special.
Not only is she a wonderful, sparkling personality, but also brings joy. If she’s happy, the kingdom prospers. But when she’s sad, the opposite rings true. Whether she’s like the Well of Souls is not up for debate. Instead, what she radiates is magical, since the realm feeds off that. Because she’s key to the nation’s prosperity, should she go missing, plants will die and people will suffer. What we soon learn is that she’s living in a prison without walls. She’s allowed to roam the palace, but can’t go out.
In regards to what’s worse is that Opal’s father is abusing her existence for his own selfish needs, to stay young. The Iroko won’t have any of it. They are this girl’s divine guardians, and they will stop at nothing to protect her. In contrast, her mom doesn’t make the same effort. She likes the luxury given to her by the spinning of mana to make the palace beautiful. As for whether or not she comes around, that’d be telling.
Moreover, this movie’s dark undertone may not be for everyone. The message it explores is one that’s needed for families to watch together to afterwards discuss. As for whether or not it concerns child abuse, there’s also the suggestion of sexual misconduct. Some themes may prove difficult to watch, but it’s needed.
I was drawn to this Afro-Caribbean stylised work because of the art. The style and costume bring to mind a mixture of various African traditions with a touch of Pharaonic opulence. The colours are vibrant and it’s visible to some degree in every frame. The artwork resembles that of what we can find in Ancient Egyptian temples.
Elsewhere, the empire is ruled from a castle in the sky, and that’s where the diversity of the artistic design changes. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a certain Studio Ghibli film. But what Bidard has designed is more original than borrowed. There are multiple municipalities built atop of jars, and I suspect there’s more than a crystal that powers this floating city empire. As a result, It makes me wonder if there’s something else other than magic to empower this regime.
I think the real message concerns whether everyone truly loves Opal. The gods, people, and her parents treat her differently, and I’m not surprised she’s feeling confused. In what this film expertly examines is how she feels about it, and sweetly shows is what she does to break free from the tyranny. However, to truly appreciate this film means waiting for a home video release. I’m sure Bidard’s audio commentary or a production diary can say more than just watching this film again.
5 Stars out of 5
This movie screened at Fantasia Film Festival 2022 on July 23.