French animated SF films tend to be more surreal than science fictional.
This is certainly true of Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and Gandahar (although Time Masters is more SF) and even of later efforts like Kaena the Prophecy (2003) and Renaissance (2006). And it is more than true of Gwen, le livre de sable.
Gwen is a very strange little film with an odd feel to it. Mostly it aims at conveying a certain mood and atmosphere, and it does manage to create a decidedly unearthly feel for its strange, sand-choked world.
It is set in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world, where some great disaster took place when the gods left. Flying saucers dance in the sky – although they may just be an illusion created to remind man of the departed gods. And some sort of strange entity, left behind by the gods, lurks in the ruins, changing dreams into reality. I leave it up to the viewer to decide if it is, in fact SF or fantasy – or perhaps a Soupçon of both.
Perhaps the strongest image in the film is that of the nomadic tribesmen striding through the desert on stilts (although perhaps we see too much of it as it repeats throughout the film).
Part of its strange feel comes from the animation, created with a paper-cut out approach. It is a little stiff and primitive in places, but before the advent of computer coloring and shading, was one of the few ways to create these effects.
Ultimately it is a minor film, an intriguing oddity, more interesting as an exercise in style than anything else.