Fighter in the Spanish Civil War, lover of Frida Kahlo, associate of Rothko and Pollock: Josep Bartoli had a colorful life. The Catalan cartoonist and political activist is the latest historical figure to get an animated biopic — a burgeoning genre in Europe.
Josep, the directorial debut of French artist Aurel, comes out in French theaters tomorrow, September 30. The 2d feature centers on a pivotal moment in Bartoli’s life — his incarceration in a French concentration camp as a refugee from the Civil War — thus shining a light on an inglorious (and little-known) chapter of France’s history. Watch the trailer and read the official synopsis below:
February 1939. Spanish Republicans are fleeing Franco’s dictatorship to France. The French government has built concentration camps, confining the refugees, where they barely have access to hygiene, water, and food. In one of these camps, separated by barbed wire, two men will become friends. One is a guard, the other is Josep Bartoli (Barcelona 1910 — NYC 1995), an illustrator who fights against Franco’s regime.
Aurel (real name Aurélien Froment) is himself a respected political cartoonist in France. He started developing the idea for the film in 2010, after coming across Bartoli’s illustrations at a festival. As the director told Cineuropa, “His drawing of a one-legged Republican with crutches on the cover, the power of his lines and of the topic immediately caught my attention.”
The project was boarded by veteran screenwriter Jean-Louis Milesi and Les Films d’Ici Méditerranée, a production company with a strong track record in documentary and historical films (its animation catalogue includes Funan and Waltz with Bashir). The executive producer is Serge Lalou, and the cast includes Sergi López, Bruno Solo, David Marsais, Gérard Hernandez, Valérie Lemercier, Thomas VDB, Silvia Pérez Cruz, François Morel, Sophia Aram, and Alain Cauchi.
Josep has started strong: it was one of four animated features in this year’s official Cannes line-up, and reviews so far have been positive. “As real people buffeted by history go,” wrote Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily, “Bartoli is entirely worthy of a feature-length animated film. His authentic artwork is used throughout the film to great effect … A harsh history lesson as well as a good yarn, this visually arresting endeavour registers strongly at a time when refugees account for a record 1% of the world’s population.”
International sales are handled by The Party Film Sales. A U.S. release has not been announced.