Adventure, magic and mysticism in ancient Egypt
by Fabien Lemercier
20/03/2007 - "From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us." These words uttered by in a 1798 speech made by Napoleon in Gizeh aptly sum up the fascination these pyramids exerced on the spirits of ancient Egypt, a power of attraction that has existed for centuries and which has now been depicted in an animated film promised to be a big box-office success.
Unlike its Hollywood predecessor, The Prince of Egypt, the new feature by Philippe Leclerc (The Rain Children) – Princess of the Sun [trailer, film focus] – delves deep into the heart of the civilisation of the pharaohs.
Adapted from the novel, La Reine Soleil, by French writer and keen Egyptologist Christian Jacq, whose books have sold millions worldwide, Princess of the Sun sets out – through the guise of the spellbinding adventures of a princess and a young boy her own age – to explore an unusual character and one deserving of an adult audience’s attention: the mystical Akhenaton.
During his reign over Egypt from 1355 to 1337 BC, Akhenaton led a religious revolution by establishing the monotheistic cult of the sun god, Aton. The pharaoh ordered the destruction of the images of countless ancient gods and weakened the power of any priests who stood in his way, accusing them of heresy and of forming an alliance with the head of the army. During the same period, the Hittite armies were threatening the borders. This rich history provided scriptwriters Gilles Adrien and Hadrien Soulez-Larivière with an ideal background for their script but, because of the film’s young target audience, they chose to focus the story on the adventures of Akhenaton’s daughter, Akhesa.
The young teenager – abandoned by a father who has dangerously disassociated himself with the management of his country and leads a lonely life of madness as a hermit in his City of Sun – flees to Thebes to seek help from her mother, Nefertiti, who leads a reclusive life in another region in Egypt. Along with Tut (the future Tutankhamen), the young princess braves danger on a journey where the two are confronted with Nile crocodiles, burning desert dunes and mercenaries. The adventures make the two children grow up quickly as they race against the clock to save the pharaoh, and Egypt.
These adventures interspersed with humour aside, Leclerc’s art lies in bringing fantastic and supernatural touches to the mysterious Egyptian mythology. Telepathy, the voyage of the pharaoh to the next life and moments of pure magic lend Princess of the Sun a dreamlike dimension, while strictly adhering to the adventure narrative and the "historical" content.
Produced in 2D form, the superbly attractive designs by Britain’s Neil Ross strengthen the film, which can be interpreted on various levels. The sketch-like style on an area of flat colour is combined with a rich palette of colours, a sharp eye for detail and discreet symbols, while the architecture of the pyramids and the temples facilitates this "occult" approach.
Another of the film’s strong points is the music by modern jazz artist Didier Lockwood who provided an adventurous mix of oriental music, among others, and rhythm and blues and drew inspiration from Debussy, Fauré and Ravel; a mixture not unlike the production of the film itself, headed by Belokan Productions who, under difficult conditions (see interview), sought co-production partners in France, Hungary and Belgium.