Animafest’s Grand Competition – Feature Film is traditionally a crossroads of most lavish and complex pieces of ‘fine art as motion picture’. Films whose making requires years of painstaking work mostly include large crews and extensive financial investments, but sometimes they can arise from wondrous diligence and talented obsession of extraordinary individuals.
Such is the case with Away, a film by the young Latvian author Gints Zilbalodis (1994). Focusing on the importance of individual aspirations at a time of global alienation both on the cinematic and non-cinematic level, Away is an archetypal tale of homecoming, following the adventures of a boy on a motorcycle, solving different physical and metaphysical barriers with the help of a small feathery friend. Impressive animated long shots and rides across endless forests, deserts, caves or marine landscapes achieve stunning, often contemplative effects in a film undoubtedly inspired by Miyazaki, which might nevertheless remind of the artistically refined video games like Journey or Shadow of the Colossus. From directing and screenplay to animation and music – everything in Away is Zilbalodis’s independent work stemming from a pure desire to ‘teach himself cinema through practice’ and the eight years of commitment that accompanied the desire. This animation Wunderkind, who made his first film at the age of 15 (he also introduced himself at Animafest with his graduation film Priorities in 2015), attracted the attention of the animation public with short titles Followers and Inaudible. Zilbalodis will attend this year’s Animafest’s professional programme in person and present his feature debut.
Visually much less lavish, but equally poetical Canadian film Ville Neuve by Félix Dufour-Laperrière is a black and white family-psychological etude set against the backdrop of social and political context and connecting collective and intimate levels in a characteristic Québécois setting. A story about an attempt of reconnecting with the ex-wife and son, inspired by Raymond Carver’s short story, is entirely made by hand out of over 80 thousand drawings, with a particular disposition for dreary weather and psychologically nuanced characterisation. Existential anxieties, irreversibility of the past, melancholia, emotional wounds and the pointlessness of idealism, as well as fun intellectualist allusions are also qualities of the second feature directed by Quebecoise filmmaker Félix Dufour-Laperrière.
The art crime film Ruben Brandt, Collector by the Hungarian-based Slovene veteran Milorad Krstić is based on a quirky assumption about psychotherapy by stealing art from world famous museums. This animated contribution to the genre of heist film, with aptly elaborate chase scenes, is often funny in its many and sparkling allusions (to Hitchcock, Méliès, Kurosawa, Eisenstein, Friedkin, Disney, Kazan, Godard, Tarantino etc.), visual, often onirically reshaped references (to artists ranging from Botticelli, Velázquez, Goya and Caravaggio, to Van Gogh, Picasso, Manet, Chagall and Degas, to Warhol, Hopper and a dozen others), psychoanalytical hooks and mockery to art criticism, without causing any damage to its unusually dynamic rhythm. Psychoanalytical thriller with elements of noir was computer-hand-drawn over the course of six years by an army of 150 animators, creating a glossary of the director’s painterly, cinematic, drama and musical inspirations, among which Picasso, when character design is concerned, holds the central position. All things considered, if it were by any chance a live action film, this cheerful action rollercoaster melange of genres and styles would make even the big Hollywood studios proud.
Lovers of animation are familiar with the fact that stop-motion is an extremely rewarding medium for horrors. The Chilean film The Wolf House by Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León is not, however, another proof to what we already know, but a piece that drags horror, fairy tale and folklore from well-known interpretative frames of ‘the return of the repressed as a monster’ to the domain of engaged film. Initially an exhibition work in progress, the project in its cinematic form refers not only the opulent and disturbing unconscious, but also dictatorship, propaganda, religion, cultism and racism. Disturbing metamorphoses, achieved by modelling paper of which the characters are made, weird ‘human’ relationships and bloody psychotic visions serve to ominously comment on the suffering that lurks in the familiar, close spaces – the film is inspired by the German cult Colonia Dignidad, led in Chile by the maniac abuser Paul Schäfer. Although it is mostly set in the title house in which the protagonist Maria imagines herself as a concerned mother, this film dissolves its chamber qualities by incessant transformations and permutations of objects and characters and the constant camera motion, leaning in terms of design on the shoulders of the giants like Jan Švankmajer, the Quay Brothers, David Lynch and Francis Bacon.
Like every year, Animafest 2019 Grand Competition – Feature Film again brings an impressive anime. Aragne: Sign of Vermillion by Saku Sakamoto is yet another psychological horror following the student girl called Rin in a gloomy rental flat, located in a ‘problematic’ neighbourhood, to say the least. Crimes, ghosts, monsters, shamans and mysteries, as well as mythological, grotesquely corporeal, entomological and medical motifs infuse this visually spectacular film by a director who made his name with digital effects in hit films like Ghosts in the Shell 2 before presenting us this, fully independent, feature debut, a combination of 3D and classical animation. The bizarre beauty of this film will take us on a disturbing journey across a nightmare in which a classical narrative breaks into pieces just like the protagonist’s psyche, while imagination and reality blend into disorienting compounds. Innovative suggestion of a ‘hand-held camera’, partially sketchy character nature combined with incredibly detailed landscape and an ample use of the lens flare effect create the formal peak of this impressive title.
Taking into account the frequency of surrealist poetics in animation due to its capability to blend dreams and reality into a coherent unit, the appearance of a film dedicated to the greatest cinematic surrealist is completely understandable. The Spanish-Dutch production Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles by Salvador Simó is a biopic about the making of Buñuel’s documentary film Land without Bread. Shortly after the shocking L’Age d’Or, Buñuel, somewhat fed up with empty artism, turned to an engaged project of extremely social sensibility which is, based on a apocryphal tale (which the film takes as a true story), financed with the money won on a lottery by anarchist Ramón Acin, Buñuel’s adventure buddy. Partly because it portrayed the appalling poverty of backward rural parts and cruel folk traditions and supported the director’s provocative political views, Land without Bread struggled with censorship issues for almost two decades. Although formally a documentary, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles reveals how the director nevertheless infused Land without Bread with his famous specific disposition. Naturally, a modern animation brings, next to outstanding characterisation of protagonists, many references to other works of this surrealist genius, as well as images of his dreams, memories and intimacy. Using fragments from Land without Bread, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles leans more on the style of Fermín Solís’s graphic novel, characterised by particularly playful facial expressivity and this film faithfully transposes it.
Another Day of Life by Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow, a co-production between five European countries, is another adaptation (of the namesake non-fiction by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński) and a documentary piece about civil war in Angola. Over the course of three months in 1975, this film follows the events in Luanda and on the front lines through the eyes and psyche of the iconic war reporter of a unique style of reporting whose hallucinatory poetics captures the chaotic and dirty war with many conflicting fractions. Summarising the tragic events through a cross-section of several individualised protagonists and the main character’s examination of his own role, the film brilliantly connects rotoscopic animation with many added visual effects and documentary images in the style of the finest representatives of this hybrid film genre. The winner of the European Film Award and Goya Award, which premiered in Cannes, the dynamic war film with an anti-war message, Another Day of Life will equally impress those interested in Cold War proxy wars and those in search of an engaged portrayal of deep emotions in the context of human suffering.
Funan by Denis Do (France-Luxembourg-Belgium), the winner at Annecy, is another history, Cold War, but primarily family film set in the same year as Another Day of Life, but on other meridians – in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Following one woman in search of her forcefully separated four-year-old son through the notorious fields of death, force labour and indoctrination, across a glorious country which is the setting of one of the largest genocides in history, the director carefully depicts her character, based on his own mother. Although partly accompanied by her husband, the protagonist Chou, dubbed by Bérénice Bejo, dominates the film which to a large extent avoids explicit crime images, but nevertheless brings tears to our eyes with its tragic tale. Funan is also an emotional tale of survival and preservation of humanity in violence, hunger and separation.