If ever there were an antithesis of the current state of Hollywood, Pompo the Cinephile would certainly be it. Following a group of upcoming talent struggling to make their way in "Nyallywood", the film follows Gene Fini make his way from Producer's Assistant to Director with the help of Joelle Davidovich “Pompo” Pomponette, a legacy wunderkind with an eye for cinema.
There's a very romantic 1950's vibe to Pompo, with the studio very much the dream factory of yesteryear, with eccentric stars, wide-eyed hopefuls looking to "make their way" in the big city and a familial style of management between cast and crew. To this end it's absolutely chock-full of charm, there's absolutely zero negativity and everyone believes in everyone else, the experienced actors supporting and encouraging the next generation.
Compared to the idea-starved, green-screen obsessed, heavily politicised and sleazy Hollywood of the 2020's, it's almost depressing to think that, once upon a time, we could believe in the film industry as a force for positive creativity.
The general plot of Pompo follows the pint-sized producer not only pushing the shy and retiring Gene Fini to direct her very own screenplay, but also taking on first-time actress Natalie Woodward to star in this personal project. Recognising Gene's "dead eyes" which show his reclusive nature is perfect for creativity, and the potential in Natalie's screen-presence, it's a bumpy road to create this celluloid masterpiece, even with "the best actor in the world" Martin Braddock coming out of retirement for the starring role.
There is, as you might expect, a lot of love shown for the Hollywood system in Pompo, but as with most foreign ideas of a Western culture, it's very much based on the ideal and not the reality - heck, it even opens with a musical number in the style of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. The idea that the small town girl can make it if she shows enough grit, that her older-starlet mentor could become her supportive room-mate and that she'd personally sit with the Director as he's pulling an all-nighter to edit the film is at once super sweet and also utterly ridiculous. There's no romance in the film, just good-natured humanity between kind and generous people. They even make a bank director look kind-hearted, and these days that takes some doing!
The animation is adventurous, especially in the film-editing scenes. Just like hacking, it's a very dull process to watch, so instead of lots of computer screen time, Gene is shown attacking tentacles of film with a sword, battling the behemoth 72 hours of shot footage into a tidy 90 minutes.
Despite the disconnect from reality, there are some elements of truth littered throughout the film - the issues of funding, pick-up shots, trailer editing and planning are all handled from a grounded perspective, the characters providing the entertainment as they react wildly to reality smacking them in the face at every turn. That there are no accusations of toxic fandom, youtube commentators leaking things or actors and directors attacking fans after lying on social media is a breath of fresh air and something to absolutely aim for.
While Gene is usually the sort of lead I find irritating (which is to say, extremely wet and pathetic) he does have the chops and gumption to push himself to success, making him admirable by the end. It's hard to imagine a teenager like Natalie in the modern world too, surely any upcoming star would have an OnlyFans account and millions of followers on TikTok, but the fact that she doesn't makes her very likeable and easy to root for.
Pompo, as the driving force of the film, is also a fine-line that the director has walked with care. It would be easy to make her a bratty, pushy madam, but instead she's a force of nature, loudly announcing her presence whenever she enters, but always having purpose and passion. She's a genuine talent with a drive to make the films she herself wants to see, and even though she's not the focus of the film that bears her name, she's the beating heart of it.
The feature is animated by a new studio called CLAP, and they've done a marvellous job. One of the smartest things they've managed is to create a film that's exactly 90 minutes long, which is a central pillar of Pompo's architecture for a great film.
It's this attention to detail that makes the film such a joy to watch, a love-letter to classic cinema with a number of in-jokes for film buffs but enough fun and gee-wiz attitude to entertain those who aren't there to pick up on the minutiae that the creative team have poured into it.