Review: Panique au village (A Town Called Panic) (2009)

towncalledpanic

A horse, a cowboy, and an Indian are all roommates. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? But A Town Called Panic is no joke. It is a fully realized, full length feature film that made an international impression by touring many festivals. It’s seen limited release and had full DVD and Blu-ray distribution, making its way from the minds of France to my Blu-ray player. It also happens to be one of the most ridiculous films I’ve ever seen.

Horse, who is a horse, is having a birthday today, but Cowboy and Indian, who are a cowboy and a Native American, forgot, so they set out to get him a present that is a little more personal than another baseball cap. Their solution is to of course scramble at the last minute and build Horse a barbeque because nothing screams sentient stable animal like an old fashioned brick cookery. But while Horse is out they try and get this whole thing built. All they need is 50 bricks so they make an order online to have the bricks shipped over. Due to a mix up in which the 0 key is held down without either of them noticing, Cowboy and Indian accidentally get 50 million bricks shipped to their front door.

I mean, I could only describe what happens in this movie point by point because the through line isn’t particularly obvious. It’s a plot that moves more or less like this happens and then this happens! I could just stop describing the story and finish the sentence in all earnestness with “and crazy hijinks ensue!” I’m glad that I finally can. I feel that the term ‘crazy hijinks’ is overused and should be saved for those very special occasions and A Town Called Panic is one of them. I think before this movie I underestimated how crazy hijinks could get, but they can get mighty crazy, kids.

panique2

What compels me to this film is not what would normally draw me into a movie. There isn’t much in the way of emotional stakes. The characters aren’t particularly deep or even overly distinct from each other apart from the visual archetypes they fall under. Of course, none of these characters really act like what they look like. The movies doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for its humour. Though, I don’t know what a stereotype for a horse would be. I guess he does eat hay for his birthday. Anyway, the point is that what might make a movie ‘good’ isn’t what makes A Town Called Panic good. And please, by no means take anything I’ve said here as a negative criticism. My intent is to inform you that this film is such a unique entity that it can’t be judged on the same criteria as the typical cinematic fair.

It’s almost unfair to judge it at all because it wasn’t made for a critical eye. Yet, it wasn’t obviously made for children either. It’s this strange sense of humour that almost feels like it’s aimed at adults who want to remember what it’s like to be a kid. Was this film crafted by strange French men who were essentially playing with toys? Yup! Does it make you wish that you could do that for a living instead of your lame joe-job? Also yup! But hey, it was nice of them to share so that you can at least take 75 minutes off and laugh of their antics. And that’s what I appreciate so much about this film; the movie does make you feel like you’re a kid again. The randomness and frantic pace feel genuinely like the story was crafted by an 8 year old, but of course the painstaking process of stop motion animation implies that the story was actually deeply considered.

It’s great to see a picture that both parents and kids will enjoy. Usually when that’s the case, it’s because the story has a lot of heart, but that’s not A Town Called Panic‘s strong point. It works for both kids and adults because it’s just so intrinsically fun you and your kids may be laughing at all the same jokes. So, if a bunch of grown ups in France can put hundreds of man hours into a film that’s basically a tribute to childhood and play then hey, maybe the heart in the film is its strength after all.

4 Stars

-DF