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Sirocco and the Kingdom

From Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds. Photo courtesy SIFF

SIFF 2024: Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds review

New animation by Benoît Chieux is a SIFF Films4Family stunner

The first solo film by French director-animator Benoît Chieux, “Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds” beckons audiences to take a Studio Ghlibi-esque adventure, transporting viewers of all ages to new worlds and maintaining the attention of even the youngest audience members thanks to its captivating story and eye-popping visuals. 

Down the psychedelic rabbit hole

Filmmaker Chieux has had some form of “Sirocco” in the works for over a decade, mainly in the form of sketches or singular images. Thankfully, his vision and years of dedication to the film pay off. “Sirocco” is a film that feels familiar. If you’re a fan of Hayao Miyazaki and his many iconic creations like “Spirited Away” or “My Neighbor Totoro” then the characters and overall vibe of “Sirocco” will be instantly recognizable. Characterized by clean and simple lines, there is no denying that Chieux was inspired by the Japanese artist.

But this is certainly not a replication. Chieux makes some incredible choices that were certainly not the shortest path in terms of difficulty to create. These small decisions make the film stand apart from others in the genre. For one, he has many characters dressed in elaborate patterns, bright colors, and overlapping shapes. Though they are certainly not complex, accurately replicating these patterns would prove to be a tedious and precise art and not a simple task for the animators to keep them fixed and consistent from frame to frame. The film has no shadows, requiring even more color to fill each scene. It also gives the film a sense of two-dimensionality, though that does not make it any less detailed, vibrant, and engaging. 

Perhaps what stood out most to me is the grandiose scale of the world-building that Chieux and his team had to manifest from their imaginations. There are sweeping shots of entire towns, water sequences that lead to new islands, and even Sirocco’s neglected desert home that is no less comprehensive than the others. There is a real sense of place and structure that lesser filmmakers would neglect.

Synopsis

In “Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds”, sisters Juliette and Carmen are chronically bored in the quiet house belonging to their mom’s friend Agnes, who is acting as their babysitter for the weekend. Pulling entertainment from Agnes’ series of children’s fantasy books sitting on her bookshelf, the girls accidentally stumble into the very pages of “Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds”, a magical realm filled with unusual creatures and fantastical beasts. 

With an obvious ode to “Alice and Wonderland”, a geometric-shaped rabbit-adjacent creature pulls them down the multi-dimensional wormhole into the Kingdom of the Winds where the girls are transformed into anthropomorphic cats. Like in most classic fairy tales, a wild journey ensues, and, just like Alice, the sisters must survive the many mishaps and other-worldly perils in order to make it back home.

Bewitched by the magical voice of bird-human hybrid Selma, a jazz vocalist famous in the Kingdom of the Wind, the girls accidentally break a gift that the locals were planning to present to the much-adored singer. Juliette and Carmen are sentenced to servitude; one is handed over to marry the leader’s son, while the other is forced to become a maid. Selma swoops in to save the day and, in turn, reveals her secret: she is a literary representation of Agnes’ departed sister.

With the help of Selma, Juliette and Carmen escape their harsh sentences and continue their journey to find their only way home via Sirocco, a mysterious being who controls the winds and storms and who is both adored and feared by his subjects. Just like the great and powerful Oz from another homeward-bound classic tale, Sirocco is not all he is rumored to be, and his sacrifice offers the girls their only path back to their world.

Girl Power 

“Sirocco” puts a new spin on the old jaunt through a foreign, mystical land, filling the screen with awe-inspiring animation and spellbinding scene-setting. There is certainly something for everyone: action, adventure, sisterhood, comedy, and some seriously beguiling music by French-Cameroonian jazz vocalist Célia Kameni. 

There is some discussion of death as Selma explains the tragedy of her human life to the girls. There are also some moments of peril that very sensitive viewers may not tolerate. But in general, the creatures are quite benign, and this female-centric fairy tale highlights the beauty of sister bonding and relationships. Because it has been dubbed in English, it is a much easier viewing experience for younger kids who will surely be enchanted by the bright and bustling sorcery in the world of Sirocco. 

See it

“Sirocco and the Kingdon of the Winds” is recommended for ages 8 and up. It is screaming Sunda, May 19 at 2 p.m. Get tickets online on the SIFF website.

Read more:

SIFF 2024: ‘Pigsy’ film review

SIFF 2024: ‘We Can Be Heroes’ film review

Preview: SIFF 2024 family and youth line-up

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.