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Portrait de Petite Cossette, Le
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by Jay Seaver

"Would be a pretty good gothic horror anime if it mastered its medium."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: I will keep this short because "Le Portrait de Petite Cossette" is not, in fact, a movie. It is, however, not far from being one; a couple hours in the editing room to remove the opening and closing credits between the three thirty-five minute "episodes" and maybe trim out some of the redundant recapping dialogue at the beginning of the second and third and Geneon would have a feature-length horror anime with decent, if not spectacular, production values and a self-contained beginning, middle, and end.

It probably wouldn't be a great horror movie, but it would be a good one. Eiri, a young man who works in an antique shop, is cataloguing new inventory when an eighteenth-century goblet from France catches his eye; it plays strange tricks with the light. When he looks closely, he sees a tiny, pre-teen girl. She is Cossette, and her soul was placed in the goblet by the mad artist who had painted her portrait hundreds of times. Eiri is the first one who can see her, which she claims means he is the reincarnation of the artist, and can free her by allowing her to drain his life-force.

Or something like that. In gothic horror, atmosphere is often more important than fitting all the details together, and Cossette has atmosphere in spades. Though conceived as a direct-to-video release before airing on Japanese television, the animation is excellent, especially during the sequences which take place in the limbo-space/dreamscape which Cossette inhabits. The use of lighting, for instance, is among the best I've seen in a primarily cel-animated work, and I imagine that many digitally houses would think twice before trying to approximate its candle-lit ambience. Cossette herself is an unnerving character, with her little-girl voice camoflaging the hardness that comes from spending two hundred and fifty years in even the most magnificent of prisons

The elements for a fine gothic story are there, but the medium gives it fits. I wonder if this was adapted from a longer manga, which would explain the unnecessary abundance of characters in Eiri's modern Tokyo - are two psychic shopkeepers actually needed? The repetition of events between the first and second parts fits with a serial, but with only three parts totalling under two hours and a "play all" function on the DVD, most will watch this in one sitting.

I probably shouldn't complain too hard about how a short serial doesn't quite work as a movie, but the festival program seemed to imply that it was a single unit, and that's the frame of mind I was in when I saw it. "Cossette" would be a pretty good movie with just a little work - probably even a better movie than it is a serial.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12541&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/03/05 00:45:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

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