Cafard is the French word for cockroach. But make no mistake, the animated film Cafard is not the French version of A Bug’s Life. It’s a bleak, adult tale about the horrors of the first World War, from the perspective of a world champion wrestler who enlists in the Belgian army in 1914 after his daughter is raped by German soldiers. Unfortunately for all involved, that terrible event is only the start of the awfulness.
Cafard’s story is told well but it didn’t thoroughly draw me in, and I wonder whether that is because I never related to the protagonist. While well-meaning, his brute force approach did not translate from wrestling to the rest of his life, and his journey is unsatisfying as a result.
The film’s subject matter was likely a cause of my detachment as well. This is a movie that is difficult to get close to, because it does not sugarcoat any aspect of war’s horrors. While that approach is commendable, it is that much more difficult to embrace Cafard. I would have liked for the film to have offered something to offset its harsh subject matter, but there is no joy to be found in this world. Any hint of happiness feels fleeting, like a consolation prize at best.
Fittingly, Cafard’s motion capture animation is harsh and eerily realistic, just like its storytelling approach. The visuals fit the movie tonally but are at times distracting, particularly because Cafard by and large is almost photorealistic but there are occasionally very roughly drawn scenes that seem like they contain animation errors. It is too bad because those moments are few and far between but that made them even more jarring when they appeared.
Despite those minor complaints, from an artistic perspective the film consistently reflects Cafard’s sad subject matter, and tells its story effectively and with purpose. That is an achievement deserving of mention. The film is thematically consistent and demonstrates the futility of war from start to finish. Cafard hammers home that theme and I left the theatre feeling that the filmmakers might even be satisfied that I found the film so difficult to enjoy. War is hell, after all, and Cafard delivers exactly that.