Unlikely friendships highlight Film Center offerings

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

“Ernest and Celestine,” a children’s animated film, plays this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. Returning is the Indian film, “The Lunchbox,” and “Locke,” the second live simulcast in the New York Film Critics National Series, will be screened on Tuesday, April 29.

Based on the Gabrielle Vincent book series, “Ernest and Celestine” is a charming animated tale of the unusual friendship between a bear named Ernest (voiced by Forrest Whitaker and Lambert Wilson) and a mouse named Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner and Mackenzie Foy). Lauren Bacall makes a cameo vocal appearance as The Grey One, along with Paul Giamatti as the Rat Judge, and William H. Macy as the Head Dentist.

When a hungry Ernest wakes up from a long winter nap, Celestine helps him fill his empty stomach by showing him how to break into a candy shop instead of munching on mice. Celestine and her mouse friends run a lively business replacing mouse incisors with those from bears. But Ernest quickly finds himself in jail for his illegal foraging in the candy shop.

Celestine comes to his rescue once again by chewing through the ropes that the police have used to restrain him in their paddy wagon. Soon Celestine is jailed as well. Now fast friends, each of the two refuses to disclose where the other is hiding out.

Directors Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, and Vincent Patar work in a muted palette of browns and grays to create the world that these two inhabit. The story’s winter scenes are beautifully animated with snowflakes and elegant line drawings. The directors capitalize on the freedom of animation with scenes such as one of Celestine’s mouse cohorts performing calisthenics on mouse traps. While the characterizations of Ernest as the big “bad” male bear and Celestine as the child-like, “girlie” mouse verge on gender stereotyping, the lively personalities of these two friends, and engaging storytelling, overcome that deficit.

“The Lunchbox” returns

Returning to the Film Center screen this weekend is “The Lunchbox,” Ritesh Batra’s poignant tale based on the notoriously efficient lunchbox delivery system for office workers in Mumbai, India. The story opens in the apartment where Ila (Nimrat Kaur) lives with her mostly absent husband and young daughter. Eager to please her neglectful husband with delicious lunches, she discovers that her carefully prepared meals are being delivered to the wrong person.

That person is the slightly gruff and taciturn Saajan Fernandes (Irfan Khan). Soon the two are exchanging notes through the lunchboxes. Ila has a confidante in the upstairs “auntie,” who advises her on how to make her meals appealing, while Saajan, who is about to retire, mostly ignores the eager new worker hired to replace him. These multiple exchanges enhance the narrative and help the director develop the two primary characters.

In the tradition of so much Eastern filmmaking, “The Lunchbox” moves at a leisurely pace. Hanging by the slenderest of threads, the story nevertheless offers rich insights into the middle-class cultural world of India. Ila and Saajan become memorable, fully realized characters, and their story is one that resonates well beyond the story’s premise.

Drama thriller “Locke” previews April 29

Based on the events that occur during a single car ride, “Locke” explores what happens after the film’s main character makes a fateful phone call. The film won Best Screenplay at the 2013 British Independent Film Awards, and Tom Hardy, the actor playing Ivan Locke, was nominated there for Best Actor. Both Mr. Hardy and the director, Steven Knight, will answer questions after the film is screened in a Live National Simulcast.

“The Lunchbox,” Thursday, April 24, and Sunday, April 27, 7:30 pm; Friday, April 25, 4 pm.

“Ernest and Celestine,” Friday, April 25, 7:30 pm; Saturday, April 26, and Sunday, April 27, 4 pm.

“Locke,” N.Y. Film Critics Series, Tuesday, April 29, 7:30 pm; special pricing.

All films at M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 ages 14 and under. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.