Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac. Written and illustrated by Ernest Thompson Seton. Cover Design by Grace Gallatin Seton. London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1911.
“She was a singular old Bear. She had a large patch of white on her breast, white cheeks and shoulders, graded into the brown elsewhere, and Lan from this remembered her afterward as the “Pinto.” She had almost caught him that time, and the hunter was ready to believe that he owed her a grudge.”
As I said before, Ernest and Célestine is a series of books depicting the daily life of Ernest and Célestine in their home. The stories are always very simple and very short. For example, one of them is called The Broken Cup. In it, Célestine breaks a cup because she is angry, Ernest gets mad, Célestine apologizes and cleans up the mess.
When we decided to make a film of Ernest and Célestine we didn’t want to put all those stories together and make a film with that. We decided to make an original story and for that Mister Didier recruited Daniel Pennac, a French novelist.
Let me introduce him… As I said, Daniel Pennac is a novelist. He had never written for cinema before. He wrote some very famous novels in France such as The Scapegoat and Write to Kill. He also puplished essays like “Read Like a Novel” and “The Rights of the Reader” (illustrated by Quentin Blake) as well as novels for children like Eye of the Wolf.
Mister Didier asked for his contribution after reading Eye of the Wolf. Strangely enough, Daniel Pennac knew Gabrielle Vincent, as he had wrote her letters several times, but Mister Didier didn’t know that when he asked him. Daniel Pennac and Gabrielle Vincent never met but they had a lot of respect for each other. They only talked through letters.
When he started working on the script, Daniel Pennac said that he wanted to pay respect to his old friend. Here is a small pitch of the story he wrote :
In normal bear life, it is frowned upon to make friends with a mouse. But Ernest, a big bear, a clown and musician who lives on the fringes of bear society, nonetheless welcomes little Celestine into his home. She is an orphan and has fled the mouse world down below. These two solitary characters find support and comfort in one another, but in the process, fly in the face of convention, upsetting the established order.
I didn’t discover the script by reading it myself. Daniel Pennac, who is a wonderful storyteller, chose to read it to us.
Representation of Daniel Pennac reading his story
When he read his writing, he put a lot of energy into it. He sometimes acted like a bear, answered the bear like a mouse, interpreting each character in the story one at a time. His reading was full of anecdotes telling us how he got this or this idea. Most of these anecdotes were about the mice living in his house. This result was a wonderful way of discovering Ernest and Célestine’s story.
Representation of Daniel Pennac reading Ernest role, then Célestine role
Here is a small excerpt from the script. It is at the very beginning of the film, the first time the audience meets Ernest…
2.ext. ernest’s house – early morning
The feather settles on top of a snowy hill. A little bird comes over and takes it into his beak. We hear the sound of deep loud snoring interrupted by the beginnings of a sneeze.
ERNEST (Off) AAAAAAAtt…
The camera focuses on a small hill.
ERNEST (CONT’D) (Off) AAAAAAAA CHOOO…
The bird is ejected and all the snow tumbles down from the hill, revealing modest cabin.
ERNEST (CONT’D) (Off) AAAAAAAAAAAAAATCHOOOOO !
The bird who had again settled on the rooftop of the cabin is ejected by the huge sneeze once more.
3. Int. ernest’s house – early morning
ERNEST’s house is in a sad state of disarray. Decrepit furniture, dust and spider webs, an old piano along with other musical instruments: cymbals, a drum, an old accordion slinking down towards the ground,… the dishes and the cleaning seem to have been neglected for months.
A big canopy bed (without the curtain) and a big bear sleeping in it. We come closer to him. This is ERNEST. He is snoring but a tiny snowflake has drifted down from a hole in the ceiling and lands on his nose. It tickles. He scrunches his nose.
Another little snowflake lands spot on his snout.
ERNEST (CONT’D) TCHHOOOOOO!
ERNEST, nightcap on his head, turns over in his bed, once, then a second time. He sits up. Frowning, he is not in a good mood. He grumbles:
ERNEST (CONT’D) I’m hungry.
He gets out of bed, steps on the accordion, which lets out a groan, walks across the room over to a table covered with pots and pans. ERNEST lifts the top off of a big crock pot and gags. He quickly places the top back on. He looks into another pot: it’s empty. He throws it over his shoulder. Another: empty. Tosses that one as well. A third : empty. He swings his arm and sweeps all the pots and pans off the table.
He comes across a big jar marked « cookies ». He shakes it, hears a sound. A big smile spreads across his face, he opens the jar and emtpies it of its crumbs. He savours his spoonful of cookie crumbs.
A little bird settles on the window sill and looks at the tempting crumbs remaining on the table. Ernest pulls the curtains to block out the sight of the bird. But chirping can be heard from the gaping hole in the ceiling above him: little birds have gathered to observe the scene and make a dive towards the cookie crumbs at the same time as Ernest. But he stumbles and trips over himself, knocks over the table and falls face first onto the floor, furious.
The fledglings flee through the roof leaving Ernest to, at last, enjoy his crumbs.
More chirping: one of the little birds has settled on Ernest’s bed. The bear looks over at it and smacks his lips. He takes some crumbs in one hand, a frying pan in the other and moves towards the bird with an extended hand, offering up the crumbs.
ERNEST (CONT’D) Nice little birdy Come here, little birdy, come here, little birdy.
As the bird moves towards the crumbs, ready to peck, Ernest swings the frying pan down to crush it but at the last minute, the bird flies off and Ernest crushes his own hand with the pan.
ERNEST (CONT’D) (cry of pain) AAaaah!!!
The script was finished in the beginning of 2009. This is when we started to recruit an artistic team. That is what we are going to talk about next…
The bartender brought the drinks. Hemingway took several large swallows and said he gets along fine with animals, sometimes better than with human beings. In Montana, once, he lived with a bear, and the bear slept with him, got drunk with him, and was a close friend.