Saturday, 14 November 2009

BAF 09 official selection of professional animated shorts

These are my musings on the nine films from the official selection of professional animations for BAF 09 (Bradford Animation Festival). They are not particularly well thought out: I wanted to just get my initial impressions strait down onto paper. Most of what I thought literally came out as I was typing. I have intentionally not read anything about the films or the filmmakers so not to skew my initial impresseions and reactions to what I saw. I liked some much more than others but have still tried to find positive things about the ones I didn’t like and tried to pick holes in ones that I really liked. I don’t mind saying here at the beginning that my favourite (being the one that I simply enjoyed the most, rather than what I may consider subjectively to be technically the best) was The Cat Piano.

These reviews (more like reactions) lose so much value if they are left solitary and lonely with nobody else adding to the debate, so it is essential that anyone who has an opinion shares that opinion. Whether this opinion is a huge ramble, a concise and brutal destruction of my opinion or a one liner: “yeah I agree” or “shut up you’re an idiot”. I want to hear good things and bad things.

I understand that the whole thing goes on a little, you may just want to jump around from one film to another. They are all appropriately headed

Prayer in the Night (Inma Carpe 2009 Denmark)
Unfortunately the grammar just threw me off of it. When 80s Japanese games have been ported badly in the past and resulted in lines like “all your bases are belong to us” then there is a certain quirky, cute charm to them, not to mention there is an insane amount of dialogue in such large JRPGs (Japanese Role Play Games). When a professional animation short does the same and has badly translated English captions, it just leaves me confused and unfortunately my simple brain cannot get past that in order to give the animation a fair go. I recall that the artistic style was very good, but the way this was brought to life through the animation just didn’t complement it and although the music should have suited the visuals the two seemed a little removed from one another.

Letting Go (Malika Whitaker 2008 France)
Nice – I know that is often seen as a bland word but I think it describes this film very well, there are probably much more adequate and emotive words but I think “nice” does the trick. The female protagonist seemed so cool, sexy and thoughtful by the way she was illustrated and animated. The small additions like the slightly pinked cheeks made her seem full of life, not to mention her big beautiful eyes which conveyed a plethora of emotion whilst somehow conversely managing to look suitably vacant and numb due to the grievance she is coming to terms with. The recreated image of her loved one was both charming - allowing her to be able to spend one last moment with him - yet also fittingly supernatural and not quite right. Again this was down to the eyes; the windows to the soul. Her large eyes – full of soul – are juxtaposed with the opaque nature of the sea shells used for his. She did take care in finding the right ones but this illusion could not last, it only bought her an extra moment before he was lost again. The way she seems completely lost in this world, conveyed in the moments of emptiness and despair in her eyes leave you fully convinced of her attempt to follow her loved one to the afterlife, but you are still relieved that either she decided not to go through with it or she was otherwise convinced by him that she had to live her life but not to forget him; he will always be there with her.

Liver Good Life (Chris Hemming 2009 UK)
Far too preachy and long. The animation was not engaging enough hold your attention. Parts of the animation were good enough, so it was even more frustrating that the animation couldn’t just extend that little bit further to completely draw you in. Without this engagement it kind of renders its message useless.

The Carnivorous Flower (Maria Lorenzo 2009 Spain)
The animation style (though not exactly to my taste) really complements the kind of Fraudian/Lacanian cultural other and mirror motifs; the uncanny etc. I am not confident enough in my psychoanalytic theory to apply it fully here, but it resonated clearly with that line of thinking and if anyone reads this, has seen the animation and is better educated on these matters, I will love to hear what you think. I couldn’t quite grasp if the blonde man was someone she had lost (dead or left) and was trying – to no avail – to replace. Alternatively, he is merely somebody (who actually exists, or some kind of ideal) that she desires but cannot have. Hmmmm, unless the blood at the beginning was actually his and not hers, as she picked up the ball from the bed which fell off as it did during her sexual endeavours with the dark haired man. That ball on the floor seemed to signify what had happened. i.e. the sex followed by the execution. Is it possible that this is what happened to him? That she killed him or blames herself for his death and for some reason feels compelled to recreate this scene with others. The blood, more likely signified the loss of a child, which makes me think possibly the loss of a child pushed the Blonde man away and she has to constantly try to fill this void – again to no avail. It is a real shame that I am enjoying this discussion about it in my head as I write this much more than I enjoyed the actual animation. Well whatever happened it is interesting that this film joins Letting Go as a story of a grieving woman.

De Si Pres (Remi Durin 2009 France)
In terms of the aesthetic feel and visual impact, in my opinion this or the Cat Piano (see below) were the pick of the bunch. The animation was the absolute right balance between being free yet still seeming to have weight to it. It had a tremendously light flow whilst still really conveying how difficult it was for the old man to walk; he appeared to really struggle. When one of the transitions into his memory occurred this weight and difficulty of movement flowed strait into the youthful pace of the man in his younger years amidst bomb blasts and gunfire. The weight is significant to show the weight that is put upon him from his time at war. We only see a snippet of his life: one morning in which he goes to the park with his granddaughter. Within this time he has at least three flashbacks; reality and his memories almost constantly enmeshed. We can only imagine how much this can weigh the mind down throughout the course of his whole life. Despite this grim feeling of a tortured life there are some glimmers of hope. During his flashbacks, we see the camaraderie that he shares with his compatriots (albeit they are blown up in the subsequent scene). It also shows him meeting his loved one and although we see the stylised representation of him remembering how he lost her I could not help but think that we do not know how much of a life he was able to have with her; we see that he has a granddaughter and therefore was fortunate enough to start a family with his loved one and the animation of her demise would lead you to believe that she died of natural causes. This film does show a man who is weighed down by his past and has been particularly traumatised by the war. It is this traumatisation which triggers him to think back to his wife’s death when he is reminded of her by the lady in the park, rather than remembering fond memories he may have had with her.

Alma (Rodrigo Blaas 2009 Spain)
This was a very creepy short film. Anything with dolls is going to be scary and the editing, lighting, pacing and every facet of filmmaking was utilised in a way to create a suspenseful horror scene. I can’t say too much more about it really; it was not as complex as some of the others, it was just a really tightly created set piece and very enjoyable.

The Cat Piano (Eddie White 2009 Australian)
The animation beautifully captured the smooth noiresque feel of the narrative and the jazz backdrop. The fact that it was a well written and entertaining poem shows exactly how an animation that complements an already well thought out story works so much better than something that simply looks great but lacks in character. If I have one tiny problem with it, I think this could have done with being a little longer. The film draws on genre expectations; it uses noir/detective motifs, along with the boy saves girl and lives happily ever after Hollywood trope. The slight problem with this is that it lacked the kind of suspense that genre such conventions would lead one to expect. A bit more of a struggle as the protagonist attempts to save the imprisoned musician cats would have satisfied the genre expectations that the rest of the film had created.
Art was truly championed in this film, both by the distinctly stylised illustrations and the emphasis on standing up and fighting for art (music). Having said that, the antagonist was not silencing the cats of the city through a dislike of music but through a need to imprison others in order to improve his own music. This improvement to his music must be fabricated din his mind as a common term for music not sounding very good is that it sounds like a load of screaming cats. This would lead one to believe that the Organ grinding villain was not in fact interested in the passion and art of the music but the power that comes with owning talented individuals. Much like a fat cat (no pun intended) record producer that would whip up some of the greatest talent around only to take all the passion out of their work in order to sell to a wider market and increase his powerbase. The fact that this villain was distinctly highlighted as human was a comment on the way humanity is so drawn to this consumerist obsession with power and success being directly linked to the possession of objects and other living things.

Wings and Oars (Vladimir Leschiov 2009 Latvia)
There was a little too much going on in this one for me to comment without a second viewing (I was still a little bewitched by The Cat Piano to be honest). I’m sure it meant a great deal but it didn’t do anything for me. If I went for my gut instinct, it seemed to have a little to do with youth culture stealing from established and traditional culture. I.e. the young woman taking the man from the older woman. The man who was desperate to get away but a little too inept to actually do it. Could this film again fit this emerging pattern of grieving women as noted above?

French Roast (Fabric O Joubert 2008 France) – contains spoiler for Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (yes that may seem obscure, but it does and it is my duty not to ruin this film for anyone who may not have seen it)
This film is well timed in light of the current public attitude towards the financial sector and anyone perceived to be involved with it. In a strangely similar way to Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell released earlier this year. It may seem like an unlikely comparison but it too shows an individual’s refusal to help someone less fortunate than themselves, only to have karma teach them their lesson. There are major holes in this comparison, such as the protagonist of Drag Me to Hell having a fully fleshed out character and the viewer can sympathise with her plight, whereas the man French Roast was entirely unlikeable. This makes the injustice of life more prevalent as the man is completely let off of the hook, whereas the poor girl in Drag Me to Hell does indeed get dragged to hell. I suppose he is not completely let off the hook as the pride that he so obviously possesses - as you can tell from his reluctance in the first place to own up to not having the money to pay for the coffee - would be dealt a severe blow by having to accept something from the man who he deemed unworthy of his money in the first place. This possibly makes the film an even more poignant similarity with what has transpired over the last year or so. The financial sector gets itself in a complete muddle by being narrow minded, obnoxious and pig-headed and has to be bailed out by someone less fortunate than them (in their terms, i.e. financially less fortunate as this is all that is important in their world). The homeless man here represents the tax payer getting this obnoxious waste of space out of trouble. The film shows the man being confused as a thief, bearing in mind that he never left without paying and therefore technically was not a thief with regards to the coffee. This mistaken identity could be the filmmaker’s way of implying that people should lay off these financial types; that not all of them are as thieving as Bernie Madoff. This let off on accounts of him not actually having done anything wrong by the letter of the law resonates with the case of Fred (note there is no sir before his name) Goodwin; that “hey I haven’t actually done anything illegal here, so I won’t feel or show any remorse”. As you may be able to tell, this is my problem with this film; though it was well animated, funny and well paced I can’t forgive its willingness to forgive.

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