The Croatian Film Competition of Animafest 2023, whose participants were chosen by Daniel Šuljić, Margit Antauer and Marina Kožul, is the most prominent animated film selection and competition in the country, which during the ceremonial festival Saturday attracts the protagonists of the domestic scene to an artistic celebration before the eyes of the world. Nineteen new works are headlined by those that also deserved to be presented in the international Grand Competition - Short Film and Student Film Competition.
In the Grand Competition Short Film, Croatia is represented by Family Portrait by Lea Vidaković (co-production with France and Serbia, local producer is Adriatic Animation), The Following Season by Natko Stipaničev (Kino klub Split in co-production with Dynamo Odense), Eeva by Lucija Mrzljak and Morten Tšinakov (co-production with Estonia, the Croatian producer is Adriatic Animation) and Y by Matea Kovač (Zagreb film).
The Croatian-Serbian multimedia author known primarily for her puppet films (Sisters, The Vast Landscape – Porcelain Stories), Lea Vidaković participates for the first time in the most prestigious Animafest competition with a darkly humorous observation of the invasion and destruction of a family home in the twilight of Austria-Hungary, for which she forms a bizarre epitaph. A film of impressive sets, meticulous details, atmospheric lighting and unsurpassed tactility in the service of misanthropy was inspired by a house in Horgoš, and filmed in Vendôme, France. Eclectic Natko Stipaničev returns to the Grand Competition with The Following Season, a short work of painterly beauty depicting winter coastal metamorphoses based on the text "Du luxe et de l'impuissance" by the contemporary, prematurely deceased French playwright Jean-Luc Lagarce. The film, dominated by motifs of birds, sea, clouds and the landscape in general, but which also displays both man and death, was created with the help of artificial intelligence and in collaboration with the French new circus artist Nicolas Fraiseau during the Dynamo circus and performing arts workshop in Odense, Denmark.
After the award-winning and audience-favourite A Demonstration of Brilliance in 4 Acts and The Stork, Lucija Mrzljak and Morten Tšinakov presentEeva, another black-humoured absurdist grotesque in their distinctive, audiovisually refined style, this time about a widow accompanied by conscience embodied in a woodpecker, the vinyl record sound of the opera and a blank group of the deceased’s friends and colleagues. Eeva was also shown at the Berlinale, and will be featured in the main programme of Annecy after Animafest.
Virovitica-born animator Matea Kovač appeared at Animafest in 2019 with Smile, and in her first appearance in Grand Competition with the movie Y she explores the female body, eros and lesbian relationships, but also the line as a basic element of visual art, symbols and outlines, thus fitting into the rich tradition of domestic erotic art in an intimate-metafilmic way, using a classic black-and-white drawing (nudes by Darko Bakliža). Jadranka Đokić passionately narrates the film.
In the Student Film Competition, Croatian creativity will be highlighted by Sara Tomas (Foreign Side) and Dorotea Radušić (Peacock Inn), both from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. After last year’s partially autobiographical and experimental Diptych on painting, Sara Tomas presents the collage-rotoscope and digitally drawn work Foreign Side, an intimate tourist tour of Zagreb that brilliantly incorporates city views, but also damaged facades and sidewalks into the film’s fabric. Through explication for foreign gaze, the work also points out the contradictions of local urban planning and renovation and problematizes the tourist discourse.
With her first Animafest performance, Dorotea Radušić brings the visceral grotesque Peacock Inn to the international stage, a story about a barber, a restaurateur and a slaughterer, who seamlessly integrates the resources and practices of the aforementioned professions into the absurd. Much more than a vegetarian manifesto, the film is an allegory of boundless human devouring that no longer looks back to natural or moral categories, or even to its own existence when it turns to (auto)cannibalism.
From the Croatian Film Competition, Martina Meštrović’s new work Her Dress for the Final (production: Kreativni Sindikat) should be singled out as it will compete for the main award at the Annecy festival as well. In a combination of stop-motion (sets, most of the scenography, backgrounds) and 2D animation (the heroine and what she touches), the film describes the 4th of December 1985 in the life of an old woman, a seemingly ordinary day and as lonely as any other, which flows into mechanical everyday actions on the one hand and reminiscences on the other. Poignant in its juxtapositionof the mundane cyclical nature of a olitary life, to which the woman has adapted without great pathos, poetic memories (the closing sequence of the dance and the merging of the two outlines of the body is particularly noteworthy) and departure, as well as the past (Drago Diklić’s hit, a basketball match) and the present (Softest Tune by the young singer-songwriter Mary May), Her Dress for the Final is a mature work of a great artist of animated films.
Kreativni sindikat also produced Remember How I Used to Ride a White Horse by Croatian stop-motion masters Ivana Bošnjak Volda and Thomas Johnson Volda, a work of non-narrative, associative film structure that, evoking puppets, ambience, sound and a waitress’ stream of consciousness meandering around the knights, horses, sugar and a tuning fork , i.e. with overall audiovisual quality and ‘tangibility’, surpasses even their hit film Simulacra. After Zagreb, this film will also travel to Annecy, where it will be screened in the Perspectives section.
The block of Annecy films is concluded by Darian Bakliža, who after debuting with a small meta-film at Animafest, returns with a more ambitious work, Under Cover (ALU), which willbe screened in the graduation film section of the French festival. The adaptation of the short story Terraces by Mihovil Rismondo talks about bullying using a combination of 2D, 3D and stop-motion and the voice of the narrator who confesses his role in abusing a schoolmate. Effectively using masks, back and leg shots, i.e. a symbolic representation of abuse, by avoiding the face the author underlines the dehumanising nature of the senseless violence. With a dynamic change of perspectives, a sense of rhythm and a strongly pointed ending, Under Cover successfully explores an important topic through an individual case.
Holy Men by David Lovrić (Adriatic Animation) is an extraordinary beautiful, difficult to fathom philosophical-symbolic, shamanic-alchemical post-apocalyptic SF reminiscent of Jodorowsky and Moebius, but in more subdued orange-brown tones of twilight in which the author exhibits an exquisite sense of shadow in the footsteps of the Franco-Belgian school. Also philosophical and symbolic, but satirical stop-motion (puppets and pixilation), Antonija Begušić’s film The Republic (Zagreb film) is inspired by the Plato's namesake dialogue and Republic of Dubrovnik, but is spatially and temporally indeterminate, i.e. it syncretically combines real and fictional architecture, artifacts of the past and the present and the sounds of different periods in the presentation of orgiastic, carnivalesque and cannibalistic bacchanalia. The author’s classic inspirations include Švankmajer, Servais and the Quay brothers, but the semiotic use of media is most similar to Jasper Kuipers’ work Finity Calling (Animafest 2018) and, regardless of the different technique, contains distant echoes of Simon Bogojević Narath’s Leviathan.
Slobodan Tomić’s associative adaptation of Borges’ work Aleph was created under the auspices of Zagreb Film, a black-and-white film with sharp contours but smooth transitions. The emphasis is on constant metamorphoses, as well as on the atmosphere of anxiety, which is complemented by noises from radio and TV sources, screams, etc. Tomić’s depiction of the ‘world in one point’ seems classic, but like his earlier Animafest film Perforations, it is marked by contemporary experience – in Aleph that of the city and the screen.
Thirteen by Helena Schultheis Edgeler and Richard Edgeler (produced by Elestra) is an experimental video that examines aspects of human consciousness and creativity in the context of the accelerated development of information technology. Moai statues, the dragon, the human body and point cloud aesthetics figure prominently in this cosmic analysis.
The remaining titles of the Croatian Film Competition were produced by the Academy of Fine Arts. Cyberpunk Second Skin by the debutante Dora Klanac shows the heroine who chooses a new body in front of the mirror with regard to various parameters. An excellent prologue for a future longer sci-fi film or series is realised with realistic 2D animation and raises questions that are common in this (sub)genre arising from late capitalism.
Morana Marija Vulić’s new film Horizon is also set in a dystopian, in this case post-apocalyptic wasteland, in a high concrete tower where an anthropomorphic lioness-girl lives connected to the cables of an unknown mechanism from which she longs to be separated. The allegorical film of pronounced melancholy exhibits full and fluid animation, which we normally liken to feature-length children’s film classics.
In an alienated and polluted black-and-white city, in an unspecified near past from the film Love is a Colour by Nikolina Žabčić, love and analogue photography are the only things that can provide a little colour to life. Retro music, floral motifs and metaphors, with a nod to the classics of the Zagreb school in the flatness of the perspective and the playful line of a simple, slightly caricature drawing, the piece offers the emotional state from the title as a botanical alternative to contemporary simulacra.
Another film exploring the phenomenology of a romantic relationship is Bird House by Petra Pavetić Kranjčec, which uses bird symbolism for a gentle meditation on romantic projections, differences in expectations, breakup and personal growth. Pavetić Kranjčec created Bird House with digital black and white animation with a strong evocation of classic pencil. If not in colour, in the minimalistic approach and the fineness of lines, movements and transitions, her work is somewhat reminiscent of contemporary Japanese animation.
Beyond-the-grave humouresque with a mild horror-zombie twist, Antonio Klasić’s Cat Food is a cute story about a ghost who wants to feed and pet a kitten one more time before saying goodbye. A strange and somewhat humorous macabre-fairy tale premise about a grandmother who falls in love with a dancing skeleton Babushka Has a New Boyfriend by Dean Hamer comments on the change in reasoning that happens in old age, but it can also be viewed in several ways – dedicated to author’s friends, in their native language and with the script by Alexandra Vartsaba, the film also touches on their unenviable position in the light of recent events but it can also be viewed as an affirmation of the Other through queer identity.
Hu Hu’s Birthday Party (dir. Vjekoslav Živković, production: Recircle studio) and The Journey (dir. Mirela Ivanković Bielen, pr. Luma film) will be screened in Animafest’s Films for Children Competition, while the Family Programme will present feature-length Cricket & Antoinette by Luka Rukavina (produced by Diedra). Many will welcome the opportunity to see Kata Gugić’s Cockpera again as part of CEE Talents 2022 programme.
Retrospective sections of Animafest 2023 will also feature several Croatian classics. As part of the theme programme dedicated to science fiction, the selection of SF made by Zagreb film should be singled out: Dušan Vukotić’s Cow on the Moon, Zlatko Grgić’s A Visit from Space, Miss Link by Joško Marušić, Time Travel by Dario Kukić, Choban by Matija Pisačić and Flimflam by Marko Belić. In the segment Science Friction – Collage in Space the audience will have a chance to see We Used to Call it: Moon by Marko Tadić and Marienbad First Aid Kit by Dalibor Barić. The retrospective of Aleksandar Marks contains the best films that this great author of the Zagreb School made with his ongoing collaborator Vladimir Jutriša (Obsession, Undertaker, Nightmare, The Fly, White Avenger), as well as Vatroslav Mimica’s films to which he made a significant contribution (The Inspector Returned Home, At the Photographer’s).