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Belle and Sebastian is about six-year-old Sebastian (Felix Bossuet), who lives with his grandfather Cesar (Tcheky Karyo) and his cousin Angelina (Margaux Chatelier) in a small village in the French Alps near the Swiss-French Border during Germany's occupation of France in 1943. The movie opens with Sebastian and his grandfather roaming through the mountain countryside. They come across the remains of a savaged sheep, apparently killed by a monstrous wild dog referred to as the 'Beast'. Villagers believe this dog has killed several sheep in the district, and they want to hunt it down.
Sebastian spends most of his days exploring the countryside and comes across the 'Beast'. The animal isn't a wild beast after all, and Sebastian becomes friends with it. When Sebastian gives the dog a bath in a stream, his new friend is transformed into a beautiful white Pyrenean Mountain Dog. Sebastian names her Belle because she's so beautiful. Sebastian keeps his friendship with Belle a secret and does his best to hide her because his grandfather and the other villagers still believe she is a sheep-killer.
Nazi soldiers arrive in the village, led by the stone-faced Lieutenant Peter (Andreas Pietschmann). The Nazis are after Jewish refugees who have been escaping over the mountain passes into Switzerland. They suspect that the village doctor, Dr Guillaume (Dimitri Storoge), has been helping the refugees to escape. One night Dr Guillaume can't lead a group of refugees across the mountain. Sebastian, Angelina and Belle must undertake the perilous mission instead.
ThemesWar and occupation; Nazi soldiers; the French Resistance; dogs killing sheep
Belle and Sebastian contains violence against animals and people, depictions of blood, threats of violence and war-related themes. For example:
- In one scene a young boy and his grandfather come across the remains of a savaged sheep (the scene doesn't show the remains). The grandfather tells the young boy that the sheep had been killed by the 'Beast' - a wild dog.
- A man with a bloody injured leg says that the wound was the result of a wild dog attack.
- In one scene there's the sound of a gunshot. Wild sheep tumble from a mountain cliff, bouncing off rocks and falling to the ground below.
- A man sets a large spring trap with jagged jaws to trap a wild dog.
- Villagers walk through a meadow, blowing horns and beating drums to scare a wild dog out of cover. Sebastian leads Belle away from the villagers but a short time later a villager aims his rifle at the dog and shoots her in the back leg. She yelps and we see a bloody bullet wound in her hind leg. She limps away as villagers continue shooting and bullets ricochet off rocks without hitting her. Later she lies on her side breathing heavily.
- In several scenes villagers have rifles and shotguns slung over their shoulders. In one scene a six-year-old boy carries a small rifle.
- Nazi soldiers drag villagers, including old women, from their houses and into the street. Women cry and scream.
- A Nazi soldier shoots a deer and Sebastian threatens to throw a rock at him. The soldier grabs him and shakes him but is then attacked by Belle who bites his arm. Blood covers the soldier's forearm. Belle runs off and two soldiers fire their rifles at her, but she escapes.
- In a tense scene, Nazi soldiers chase a family of Jewish refugees with Sebastian, Angelina and Belle across snow fields and through a violent snow storm.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Belle and Sebastian has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example:
- Sebastian is lowered over a mountain cliff face to a ledge below and dangles precariously in mid-air on the rope. He rescues a lamb, putting it in his backpack, and is then pulled back up to the top of the cliff.
- Sebastian is out in the wilderness by himself when he first meets Belle, who looks wild, large and dirty. She barks, leaps past him, and runs off.
- A man accidentally sprains his ankle, which swells up. He struggles to drag himself through the snow on a sledge. Belle arrives, grabs hold of rope tied to the front of the sledge and pulls the man to safety.
- A man is buried under an avalanche of snow. Belle, Sebastian and Angelina dig him out.
- A group being chased by soldiers are forced to cross an ice bridge suspended over a deep crevasse. The ice bridge breaks as Belle crosses. She falls into the crevasse and is lucky to be rescued.
- One scene shows several snarling wolves attacking sheep in a barn and chasing them out. Belle confronts the wolves and they run off with no sheep hurt.
Children in this group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
In addition, they might be upset when Sebastian asks his grandfather what happened to his mother, who the young boy has never seen. The grandfather tells the boy that his mother was a gypsy who he found in the countryside giving birth. She died after he promised to look after the baby.
Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in Belle and Sebastian.
There are some sexual references in Belle and Sebastian, including when Sebastian talks about a man liking women and having a lover.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Belle and Sebastian shows some use of substances. For example:
- Sebastian's grandfather Cesar is shown several times drinking spirits and wine. In a couple of scenes Cesar is drunk, staggering and slurring his words. In one scene he has passed out face down on a table with an empty bottle lying on the table next to him. People talk about Cesar's abuse of alcohol.
- One scene shows Cesar pouring alcohol from the illegal still that he keeps hidden in a shed. He quickly covers the still when someone comes to the shed.
- Sebastian steals brandy from his grandfather and uses it to treat a gunshot wound in Belle's leg. He also gives Belle an injection of antibiotics, thrusting the syringe into the dog's leg without hesitation.
Nudity and sexual activity
Belle and Sebastian has some occasional low-level sexual activity and mild crude images. For example:
- A young woman bends down wearing a low-cut dress, and a man ogles her exposed cleavage.
- A scene shows the backs of two Nazi soldiers as they urinate against some trees. We also see the streams of urine.
- A scene shows a dozen Nazi soldiers having dinner. Several women are seated at the dinner table among the soldiers, who flirt with them. One soldier nuzzles the neck of one of the women.
None of concern
Belle and Sebastian has one or two low-level coarse words and name-calling.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Belle and Sebastian is a French movie based on a children's book by Cecile Aubry. It is a heart-warming adventure with attractive main characters - an appealing young boy and beautiful dog - who will appeal to both older children and adults. The movie also contains some breathtaking scenery.
There are several violent, scary and disturbing scenes, so Belle and Sebastian isn't recommended for children under nine years. We also recommend parental guidance for children aged 9-13 years. The movie is in French with English subtitles, so it will be difficult for children who aren't reading well to follow.
The main message from this movie is to never give up on animals or people who have been abused. Love, understanding and perseverance can turn around even those who seem beyond help.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include the following:
- Empathy and understanding: throughout the movie, Sebastian shows empathy and understanding beyond his years in his care for Belle.
- Perseverance and courage in adversity: several characters show perseverance and courage in the way they overcome obstacles while helping Jewish refugees escape across the mountains.