Philippe Leclerc • Director
by Fabien Lemercier
Cineuropa: Why did you agree to direct Princess of the Sun?
Philippe Leclerc: I was finishing The Rain Children in Seoul when Léon Zuratas approached me. I’ve had a passion for Egypt since I was a child and became even more interested in the country, especially its mystical side, when the rock group Magma came on scene in the seventies. While I’m not an expert, I’ve always been fascinated by Egyptian art and sculpture since my studies at the Beaux-Arts.
Did you make any changes to the story?
I wasn’t familiar with Christian Jacq’s novel so I started working on a first adaptation by Gilles Adrien, who restricted himself a little too much to a pure adventure genre suited to a very specific age bracket. I wanted to make it slightly more magical, mystical and religious, so I added these elements of mystery so that the film could be interpreted on different levels by all family members.
Which character inspired you the most?
Akhenaton. I would have liked to develop him more, but couldn’t. Since the main audience of animated film is young people and, in particular, children, there are commercial constraints. I still tried though to make the most of this slightly crazy and mystical character. I even went so far as to include the fact that he was androgynous (considered as both the father and mother of Egypt and nicknamed “the asexual” by priests). He’s a far cry from Yul Brynner! I also wanted to portray a daughter’s relationship with a father a little “off his trolley”, and that of a child with divorced parents, a situation that is quite common nowadays.
What visual decisions did you make?
I didn’t want to portray Egyptian art the way it’s usually portrayed. I tried to go for a more graphical interpretation of its art, which I find extremely modern. Its pure lines and simple forms remind me of art deco. I wanted to get away from its pompous Hollywood razzle-dazzle aspect.
How did the production come about in Hungary?
I think it’s a pity that films can’t be produced properly in France. The experience in Hungary was a difficult one. The local teams aren’t always 100% involved in the film. Not only did we have to find the right professionals but on top of that Hungarian professionals often have to work at several jobs to make ends meet. This isn’t easy to deal with. But I still think it’s possible to produce in France. The problem is how money is managed. Animated film budgets are sometimes colossal but this isn’t reflected in the final product due to poor organisation and the fact that no studios exist in France.
Where does animated film belong in cinema?
It isn’t considered a film genre in its own right. It is classed separately. Nobody, for example, compares a Sautet film to one by Spielberg. In live action, that just isn’t done but in animation, it is. People do compare Kirikou with Triplettes [trailer] or Shrek. Morals also play an important role. We can’t do everything we want, such as show nudity. I was asked to respect certain historical details, such as furniture, materials, but then I realised that in Egypt at that time people wore very little clothing. My first model, Akhesa, showed a breast, one of a 12 or 13 year-old girl. A year after these models were approved, the production asked me to cover up the breast, go over the drawings, add more colour and reconstruct. However, children interpret images immediately and don’t necessarily see something as being bad. It is adults’ mode of thinking with their hang-ups that projects itself onto the world of children, whereas children find the latest TV animated series or films very funny. You don’t have to be rude or provocative either, but I think all issues can be dealt with in animation, even the more serious social ones.