Zarafa and the giraffe mania



Under a monkey bread tree, an old man tells the story of Maki, a 10 year old boy, and Zarafa, an orphaned giraffe.

This is how Rémi Bezançon’s first animated feature film begins. Rémi Bezançon (b. 1971) is best known for feature movies like „ Love Is in the Air” (Ma vie en l’air, 2005), his first feature, or „The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” (Le premier jour du reste de ta vie, 2008), his most successful movie, with 9 César Awards nominations and 3 wins. After „A Happy Event” (Un hereux événement, 2011), Bezançon enters the world of animation with „Zarafa” (2012), nominated for César Awards in the best animated feature section.

The movie has an interesting background: the historical event of the giraffe gifted by Muhammad Ali of Egypt to Charles X of France. It was the year of 1827 and the first time the French people was seeing a living giraffe.

71638-zarafa-au-jardin-des-plantes-museum-mnhnBefore telling a few words about the movie itself, I propose to you a short introduction about the successful story of the giraffe through ages – this intriguing long-necked animal.

In 46 B.C., Julius Cesar brought from Egypt a giraffe, in order to take part in the animal fights held in Rome for the public’s amusement. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it passed almost 1.000 years till another giraffe was seen in Europe. In the XIIIth century, Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire and Alfonso X the Wise received a giraffe each, from Egypt. Later, in 1486, it was the turn of Lorenzo de Medici to receive one, too. The city of Florence was, then, the center of a giraffe mania. In 1826, in the context of the political conflict between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, Egypt decides to offer a giraffe to France, as a diplomatic gift. In 1827, after a long trip, the giraffe is presented to Charles X, to his summer residence from Saint-Cloud. The king awaits the new gift with a bunch of rose petals. After this, the giraffe – called Zarafa [Arabic name for giraffe] is settled in the Ménagerie du Jardin du Roi (today called Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes), the royal zoological garden. In that summer, Zarafa was the most famous animal in France, visited by 600.000 visitors, being an inspiration for painters, poets, bakers, and many others, including fashion designers. The Zarafa mania lasted 3 years, till the end of Charles’ X reign in 1830. Today, a model of Zarafa is exposed in the Natural History Museum from La Rochelle, as donation of the National Museum of Natural History of France (1931).

The movie that Bezançon created, in collaboration with the young director Jean-Christophe Lie, is about the fantastic travel of Zarafa, from Egypt to France, an adventurous road, filled with pirates and flying balloons. Within the julesvernian trip, the director is taking the chance to explore the issue of slavery too. The film is created in a light graphic style, using the traditional animation technique, with no special effects. Bezançon’s main concern in his film is represented by the human interactions and the emotional states.

The film was accused of distorting the historical facts. This is why the National Museum of Natural History organized in 2012 a temporary exhibition entitled “The True story of Zarafa” to present its own version of history.

The film can be seen in Romanian cinemas too, being more suitable for children.