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Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds: NYICFF Film Review

Two cats in the film Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds

Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds is a charmingly psychedelic animation for all ages that follows two young sisters who fall into a fantastical storybook.

Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds (Sirocco et le Royaume des Courants d’Air) begins with children’s author Agnes (Géraldine Asselin) crafting a new chapter in her latest entertainingly bold and unique book. She’s ready to lie down and relax for a well-needed rest after working hard when she hears a knock at the door. Two young sisters, Juliette (Loïse Charpentier) and Carmen (Maryne Bertieaux), arrive at her house, bursting with energy and ready for an exciting sleepover, which Agnes had completely forgotten about. The girls have even brought over a giant cake to celebrate Juliette’s fifth birthday. Before Agnes can get stuck in playing babysitter, she needs a quick nap to feel refreshed. She tells the sisters to both be quiet whilst she swiftly gets some sleep.

Juliette and Carmen entertain themselves by flicking through the pages of Agnes’ vast book collection. There’s one in particular that catches Juliette’s eye, one by Agnes herself. Juliette opens the book, breezing past every word and only looking at the images of the mythical creatures on the pages. An amusing wooden figurine unexpectedly falls out of the book, who claims that he is from the Kingdom of the Winds. All he wants to do is get back to his own land as fast as he can, so he effortlessly draws a hopscotch on the floor, jumping through a portal at the end of the drawing. Juliette, being young and up for an adventure, jumps in after him, with Carmen following, as the drawing vanishes into thin air.

Before the girls know it, they’re twisting through an enchanting whirlwind portal into the Kingdom of the Winds, just like in Agnes’ books. And to make things even more fun, Juliette and Carmen have both turned into cats. Juliette is thrilled to be a feline, jumping onto all fours and purring around Carmen’s legs. Their new wooden companion tells the sisters that they can return to the real world if he draws a hopscotch again. Juliette wants to experience the fantasy world for a bit longer so declines the invitation. It’s not as simple as it seems, though, as strong winds are heading their way, and the trio must run to safety before they get swept away. Juliette and Carmen’s journey around the Kingdom of the Winds is far from straightforward. But it will prove to be a sensationally magical tale to tell everyone if they make it home.

After Juliette’s curiosity gets the better of her, she becomes acquainted with the mayor of the Kingdom of the Winds, an orange, monster-like creature (who weirdly reminds me of Pepe the Frog) with a troublesome personality. Most of the creatures that obey the mayor are smaller, mute versions of him, and they all look like they’re guilty of doing something with the wiggly grins on their faces. The mayor sentences Juliette to be a maid of a famous opera singer, Selma (Aurélie Konaté), and Carmen must immediately marry the mayor’s son. His son is an anomaly among the creatures, always wide mouthed and covered in purple boils, like the Gruafflo’s purple prickles. Juliette and Carmen are split up for the first time in their life, and after a mishap with their wooden friend, he can no longer think straight so cannot draw a good enough hopscotch to transport them home. 

A giant orange animal surrounded by other animals in the film Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds
Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds (NYICFF)

Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds is a stunning psychedelic expedition that centres around the love that two sisters can have for each other. The creatures they meet in the Kingdom of the Winds are mostly pleasant, with many of them wanting to help the girls get home. There’s barriers in any area of life, so of course there are a few evil monsters trying to throw them off track, especially when they’re outliers in this new land they’re not accustomed to. Thankfully, Juliette knows and loves Agnes’ books so she’s not afraid of even the meanest of creatures, like the titular figure, Sirocco, who she faces on her own.

For me, the most captivating creature is Selma, who’s some sort of duck that wears astonishingly gorgeous dresses. She’s written by Agnes with so much care, like she really knows Selma in real life. We discover later on that Selma is based on a woman in Agnes’ life that she adores greatly and deserves to be written about with such passion. Selma helps Juliette as if she were her own daughter, wanting to reunite the sisters together and get them back to Agnes’ house as soon as she can. The spectacular singing duck sells out the Kingdom of the Winds’s very own floating opera house to all of the monster creatures (and there’s even some pink aliens thrown into the audience!), captivating everyone who has come to witness her sing.

Director Benoît Chieux is no stranger to animation; however, this is only his second ever feature film. Alongside his co-writer, Alain Gagnol, they have both developed a piece of cinema which deserves the hype. It’s a delightful, brightly coloured animated film, with characters I can’t help but fall in love with. Even the youngest of the two sisters, Juliette, I find myself liking despite the fact that she’s unbelievably troublesome. I could follow these two sisters everywhere, especially when they’re presented as cute little cats.

Whilst Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds seems like it could be all over the place and not have much direction, it’s cohesive and never strays off track. Obvious comparisons to Hayao Miyazaki’s work are warranted, as it fits somewhere between The Boy and the Heron and Spirited Away with the way it sells a narrative of characters trying to get home. But it still manages to be its own film. There are so many fantastical creatures in all of these animation films, and all deserve to have their story told. I can imagine the heron from The Boy and the Heron getting along with the mayor from Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds; let’s not put them against each other, we should let them be friends! Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds is already a standout of the year. Chieux has created a world where I want to be involved in, time and time again. The short and incredibly sweet 76 minute runtime is ideal for kids, like it’s undoubtedly marketed towards, but adults too. If there’s one animation you dive into this year, let it be Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds.

Sirocco and the Kingdom of Winds (Sirocco et le Royaume des Courants d’Air) will be screened at NYICFF 2024 on March 2, 2024, followed by Q&A with director Benoît Chieux.

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