The animated movie 'Josep' must be regarded first and foremost as a sincere tribute paid by one cartoonist to another, the latter dead for a quarter of a century. The first is Aurel (real name Aurélien Froment), press cartoonist for the French newspapers Le Monde and Le Canard Enchaîné. The other is Josep Bartoli (1910-1995), a talented but too little known Catalan Spanish draftsman, whose main work, the cartoon album "La retirada", bears witness to life in a concentration camp (his own and that of his fellow prisoners). A concentration camp ? Eh yes! And a French one at that, erected by a democratic republic whose motto is, let's remember, "Liberty, equality, fraternity". Such was indeed the "asylum" provided to Franco's victims by the French government when, following the fall of the Spanish Republic, they fled to their "brother" country. For sure, if seen only from this angle, Aurel's initiative does inspire respect. By turning Bartoli's drawn work into a feature film, Aurel indeed gives it wider visibility, thus reinforcing the power of its humanist message, a heart-wrenching call for the respect of human dignity, particularly relevant in these troubled times.
A prisoner himself, subjected like his fellow citizens to unworthy conditions, malnourished, uncared for, mistreated, humiliated day after day, Josep resisted, and notably thanks to a massive "weapon of survival", an unusual talent for drawing that he put to good use: making sketches of the everyday horror enabled him to endure the ordeals engendered by the situation and at the same time to testify to the ignominy that breeds them. The resulting court of miracles of skinny, sickly, crippled, desperate creatures that he depicts is without appeal, as were those of Jacques Callot or Goya in a more distant past.
On the whole, Aurel's film gives us a good enough idea of Bartoli's graphic universe but if you aim to appreciate Bartoli's work at its true value you had better get the album. Because, however commendable it is, "Josep" has his limits. On the passive side, at least in my opinion, the rudimentary animation, far removed from the shock effect produced by Bartoli's drawings, which prevents an unreserved adhesion to the project. Seeing characters progress in successive jolts or hardly move doesn't allow for easy entry into the story, which makes "Josep" inferior to a work like "Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles" and behind masterpieces like "Persepolis" or "Waltz with Bashir". Problematic too are a certain lack of historical explanations as well as gaps in the hero's personal history which, if filled, would have made the whole thing more arresting. A defect particularly compensated for by a great art of putting things into perspective, certainly due to the screenwriter Jean-Louis Milesi. We thus cross five eras, from 1939 to 2020, and the different eras (normal continuity, flash backs and even flash forwards with Frida Kahlo), illuminating each other.
All things considered, "Josep" is perhaps, as I said, only half convincing, but half convincing is enough to recommend this film sincere in its approach as well as quite touching. Which is certain that by going to see it you won't waste your time.