Taxandria (1994)


Belgium/Germany/France/Hungary. 1994.


Director/Story – Raoul Servais, Screenplay – Raoul Servais, Frank Daniel & Alain Robbe-Grillet, Producers – Heinz Bibo, Dany Gays & Tarcisius Vanhuysse, Music – Kim Bullard, Visual Effects – Bibo Studios, Art Direction – Suzanna. Production Company – Iblis/Bibo/Les Productions Dussart


Elliott Spiers (Emy Perel), Richard Kattan (Jan), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Karel/Secretary Virgilus), Katja Studt (Princess Alet), Andrew Sachs (Mr Bonz)


A young prince is taken for tuition at a secluded seaside hotel. He quickly bores of his lessons and wanders off to visit a nearby lighthouse where he has been forbidden to go. Befriended by the lighthouse keeper, he learns of a secret world that can be seen inside the light of the lamp. This is the world of Taxandria where all machines, progress and time have been banned. In Taxandria, an innocent printing clerk unwittingly causes a revolution when he upsets a printing press and tries to replace the spilled letters, only to have his new words taken for a subversive code. On the run, he falls in love with the palace princess, discovers the forbidden art of photography and sets out to fulfil his dream of building a flying machine.

Taxandria is the first (and so far only) feature film from Belgian animator Raoul Servais. Servais makes extraordinary animated films – films that are halfway between live-action, animation and animated cut-out. Although Taxandria is a blend of live-action and animation, it has about as much in common with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) as say Peanuts does with Salvador Dali. Servais’s shorts – Harpya (1978), Nocturnal Butterfly (1997) and Atraksion (2001) – draw less upon the Hollywood animation tradition – Chuck Jones, Disney, Hanna-Barbera etc – than they do upon the traditions of Belgian surrealist artists like Rene Magritte and Remy Belvaux. If anything, one could call Raoul Servais less of an animator than someone whose films are akin to What Dreams May Come (1998) wherein actors move though works of classical art come to 3-D life.

With a script co-written by novelist/screenwriter/director Alain Robbe-Grillet, no less than the screenwriter of the seminal French New Wave work Last Year in Marienbad (1961), Taxandria falls into the realm of the fabulist tale that Hollywood films rarely touch or understand – witness the failure of the adaptation of St Exupery’s The Little Prince (1974) and think more of the happy feelgood likes of The Wizard of Oz (1939).

There are times when Raoul Servais seems impatient with plotting and having to direct live-action scenes, as though he were eager to get to the animation. However, Taxandria is in its glory when it comes to Raoul Servais’s surreal half-live/half-animated vistas – a desk constructed out of a pile of rubble; a boat docked beside an ocean that has dried of water, revealing brickwork beneath; the wonderfully Monty Python-esque image of a row of bowler-hatted men waist-deep in a line in the water transmitting Chinese Whispers of eavesdropped conversation; a lighthouse mobile of DaVinci flying machines and the beautiful final image of one such flying machine shadowing the departing prince’s car off into the fadeout.

(Nominee for Best Production Design at this site’s Best of 1994 Awards).

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