1 March 2001 | donyale
Pastoral meets fin-de-siecle
Young Edgar, called Sweetie by his mother, lives on a beautiful French estate with extensive gardens. His father is a successful film producer, his mother is at a bit of a loose end. Edgar is not very interested in his parents, only in the garden. With Lucas, the estate's gardener, he tends the flowers that bloom abundantly, disguising the aridity of the family's relationships.
Lili, Sweetie's mother, has decided to adopt a third-world child. She tells Edgar this the day before she and husband Hughes depart to Peru to pick up the infant. Hughes is hoping that a five year old Incan will behave more like a son than the garden-obsessed, hot-headed Edgar. Unable to understand his son, Hughes has fallen into the habit of baiting him mercilessly, leaving Sweetie with the garden, his doctor, Lucas, occasionally his mother, and Roger Hannin, the famous French actor and long-time ally.
When Lili and Hughes arrive home with Anibal, Sweetie is less than impressed at 'the Incan' as he refers to him. But Anibal has hidden strengths and weaknesses, both of which will form bonds between the boys.
Anibal is filled with the sort of moments that Oprah would approve of, from the growing relationship between the two boys to the positive (although not always ethical) older role models provided by Lucas, the doctor and Roger. Set mostly at the family's beautifully designed home, the brittle interaction between plant-loving Sweetie and money-loving Hughes is played out in the set. Hughes and his film friends stay close to the house and pool, looking at the natural world's beauty, but distant from it. More interested in money and prestige than his children, Hughes cannot understand the need for nurturing that comes instinctively to Sweetie. His inability to relate to his children leads to rejection, and near-tragedy.
The child actors are very well chosen, playing children as children, without the post-modern dialogue often put into the mouths of babes by American film makers. Edgar is as bratty as a 10 year old should be. Little Anibal's asthma attacks are even more terrifying since he is portrayed by a child so small that he looks as though the ragged breaths might break him in two. The adults too fit their roles with grace and aplomb, Roger Hannin seems to be on the edge of fulfilling every Gallic stereotype out of a sense of fun before becoming a person as well as a famous actor.
It's not the deepest of films, but there is a great charm that extends well beyond the scenery. I was about to go to bed when I happened to see the opening credits, by the end I was happy to have missed the sleep.