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Review: Invisible Essence: The Little Prince

March 8, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is one of the most beloved literary works of the past century. The story of a lonely pilot who crash lands in the desert and befriends a young boy from asteroid B-612, the beautifully written novella has the ability to connect with both children and adults.

Since it was published in 1943, the book has been translated into over three hundred languages and sells an average of about two million copies per year, putting it alongside the bible as one of the most well read books of all time. It has truly transcended culture, language, age and time.

Filmmaker Charles Officer explores the impact of the allegorical story in Invisible Essence: The Little Prince, a documentary that examines both the life of its author and the deeper meaning to be found in his work. The film serves as an engaging biography of Saint-Exupéry, that explores how his career as a pilot for the French postal service and his lifelong love of aviation, as well as the rocky relationship that he had with his wife Consuelo Suncín and the tragedies of losing his father and brother at a young age, influenced and inspired the story.

The film also works as a fractured retelling of the story itself, as it nicely edits together sections of the book being read aloud by its many subjects, along with footage from the late Stanley Donen’s 1974 live action film adaptation and Mark Osborne’s excellent 2016 animated version, as well as excerpts from Richard Burton’s 1974 audio recording and Guillaume Côté’s 2016 stage adaption for the National Ballet of Canada.

Osborne and Côté add some interesting insights to the film during their onscreen interviews, as do New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik, Morgan Library & Museum curator Christine Nelson, Indian-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur, and biographer Stacy Schiff, among others. The interviews are interspersed with footage of the book being read in different classrooms, and the film is built around the loose narrative structure of a young boy named Sahil in Toronto, who is visually impaired and learning to read the book in braille at the CNIB. He provides a sort of stand in for the Little Prince himself throughout the film.

The film is accompanied by a lovely musical score courtesy of composer Kevin Lau. This is an engaging and lovingly crafted documentary that beautifully pays tribute to one of the most beloved stories of all time, with an inquisitive and very gentle quality to it that matches the charming and melancholic tone of Saint-Exupéry’s timeless work.

Invisible Essence: The Little Prince is opening tonight in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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