There's nothing quite like seeing a beautiful performance. By the same token, there's nothing quite like being a beautiful performer. What makes Pietrolino, the graphic novel by Alexandro Jodorowsky and OG Boiscommun, so remarkable is how effectively it gets those points across by making us feel them.
Telling the story of Pietrolino, a virtuoso mime in mid-century France, the book takes the reader on a vivacious journey of the heart and creates large scale drama of out genuine emotion. In occupied France, Pietrolino travels from city to city performing for the locals, and touching their hearts and transporting them entirely through his art. When he is caught performing a subversive, anti-Nazi show, his hands are broken and he is tossed into a prison camp. Years later, Pietrolino and his loyal sidekick Simio, who narrates the story, are released upon the end of World War II and make their way through France once again, this time as a boxing clown circus act. They meet a figure from their past, who joins their act, and the three of them end up working for a large circus and becoming major attractions.
Jodorowsky, who is probably best known for the extreme and surreal imagery in such films as El Topo and The Holy Mountain, may surprise readers who aren't expecting such gentle humanity from him. However, Pietrolino comes from an honest and expressive place. Jodorowsky studied mime when he was younger, and Pietrolino was originally written as a stage play for Marcel Marceau. But more than anything else, Pietrolino is a love story – love of performing, love of family, and romantic love are all expressed here. Despite the betrayal, violence, and heartbreak throughout the narrative, the book ends up in a joyful place.
Just as joyful is Boiscommun's art. The story is rendered is lively, animated style that is simply beautiful. The representational art not only shows a lot of top-notch draftsmanship, but a lot of life and heart. The vibrant, painterly colors are gorgeous, expressing mood, texture, and sense of place with a lot of power. The characters' body language is truly expressive. Most amazing of all is the way the circus performance scenes pop. Boiscommun is able to imbue a sense of movement in each panel; comics so rarely capture the essence of bodies moving through three-dimensional space this ably. A story like this lives and dies on the way its characters and settings are rendered, and Pietrolino is quite simply a joy to look at. The story flows so seamlessly through each page that the reader will feel transported, just as the audiences in the story itself do whenever they watch Pietrolino or his love interest Alma the trapeze artist perform.
Audiences are stunned silent when they come see Pietrolino, and readers may be similarly moved when they read his story. It's a romantic fable that tugs on the heartstrings and rides the wave of pure emotion. It's a truly beautiful story, full of life and magic and a sense of wonder that uplifts while it delights.
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