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World Festival of Animated Film /
19 - 24 June 1978
World Festival of Animated Film / 19 - 24 June 1978
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SF Anime, Feminist Utopia, Hungarian Nostalgia and Family Tales: Animafest Zagreb 2024 Grand Competition – Feature Film
05/17/2024

The Animafest Zagreb 2024 Grand Competition – Feature Film presents six stylistically and technically diverse works of different genres, some of which have already received the most prestigious animation awards. Although they nominally open up to the audience of different tastes, the works share a complete sensory experience, a cinematic opulence that must be experienced in the darkness of the movie theatre.

SF Anime Adapted from the Master Tezuka
The full-blooded, spectacular sci-fi anime Phoenix: Reminiscence of Flower is an adaptation of the story from the unfinished Hi no Tori manga series by the legendary Osamu Tezuka, who considered it his life’s work. This is the second feature film for director Shojiro Nishimi, who gained his early experience on the classic Akira, and formed his style around attractive action scenes and extremely fluid animation. Like the template, the film explores themes of life, death, memory and interpersonal relationships in the context of human and cosmic time. On the distant planet Eden, the Earthlings George and Romi find a new home, but after his death while finding water, she is left alone with her son Cain and the robot Shiva. Romi decides to enter a cryogenic sleep in order not to die of illness, and leaves her son in the care of a robot, but by mistake she sleeps for 1300 years instead of 13. What she will see when she wakes up is the product of a refined sci-fi imagination – her Odyssey is just beginning. Like any work that talks about love and longing that transcends ontological boundaries and contains cosmic sadness and nostalgia for the primordial, Phoenix: Reminiscence of Flower is an emotionally demanding sci-fi story that, in the second part, turns into a fantastic journey with an ecological warning, a critique of contemporary civilization, a fairy-tale archetypes and lavish depictions of truly alternative worlds.

Hungarian Nostalgia for the 1990s
Pelikan Blue
, Lászlo Csáki’s film about a group of young forgers of railway tickets thematizes the opening of borders and the longing for travel after the fall of communism in Hungary. It is a feature-length animated documentary (the first in Hungarian history) based on the audio recordings of the three protagonists and other witnesses, but although it also uses the principles of live action film (it often plays with genre conventions, and some shots were made with Super 8 in order to achieve the 90s aesthetics), above all, it uses evocative 2D animation in a nostalgic, considerate and detailed reconstruction of the past, to which an adequate soundtrack also transports us. Rhythmic, dynamically edited and framed, Pelikan Blue is a film of memories of freedom, togetherness and a time of transition – an ode to youth in the European 1990s. As the forgery scheme (made possible by the fact that the tickets are written by hand with the help of indigo cover paper and that heated Domestos erases the ink) grows from a private ‘enterprise’ to a business, the film takes on the outlines of a classic caper film in Eastern European improvisational guise, but maintains a fundamentally humorous tone and confessional structure. The film, based on the idea of Gábor Sipos (producer of Oscar-winning Son of Saul), has been in the making for more than a decade, and began as a comic book panel.

Indian Feminist Utopia
Isabel Herguera’s
Sultana’s Dream is based on a novella of the same name by the Bengali writer and activist Begum Rokeya Hossain, who in 1905 envisioned a feminist, technologically advanced utopia Ladyland of inverse gender segregation where men are confined to homes and women rule the world on the basis of science, education and common sense. A symbolically pregnant film with a meditative rhythm and a dream-like atmosphere, for the most part follows the Spanish animator Ines, who is delighted with the story and, through art and various encounters, embarks on an identity, gender and philosophical search for the author and the actualization of her text. Possibly partly autobiographical, it is also a therapeutic search for a girl who at the age of eleven experienced “male gaze”. Between imagination and reality, the Indian cultural imaginary, Spain and Italy, the eclectic Sultana’s Dream features Rokeya Hossain’s sung biography and other vocal interludes, her quotes from the mouths of an ensemble of characters, and cameo appearances by famous scientists Mary Beard and Paul B. Preciado. The film combines darker, hand-painted watercolours, cut out, silhouettes and mehndi tattoo aesthetics with digital characters, achieving a certain transparency and a mise-en-scène layout that is both flat and multi-planar, with plenty of detail in an ornamental depiction of a fantasy world. Isabel Herguera (b. 1961) is an established Basque author with an international career as a director, professor and critic, whose feature film debut is Sultana’s Dream.

A Fairy Tale and Slapstick for the Whole Family
Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds, Benoît Chieux’s Franco-Belgian film, is a lavish family fairytale fantasy that earned the Annecy Audience Award for its imaginative world-building and characters. Surrealistic logic and the occasional psychedelic aesthetic reminded some critics of the classics George Dunning’s Yellow Submarine and René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, but unlike them, this film is fully adapted to younger ages because imagination, along with sisterly love and the healing power of storytelling, is the theme of the work. The array of protagonists consists of the sisters Juliette and Carmen (turned into cats by moving into a fantastic world through a game of Hopscotch), the children’s writer Agnes, the lonely wizard – lord of storms Sirocco and the bird-like singing diva Selma, as well as a whole series of other unusual creatures (like peevish toy whose expression slips into absurdity) that sometimes evoke Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro, and sometimes Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Extremely immersive when seen in the cinema and often humorous, the film is also addressed to adult viewers with a touch of melancholy about dealing with the loss of a loved one, but all generations will enjoy its animated flight over beautiful scenes, a memorable symphonic score and impeccable storytelling. If they get to see only one Animafest movie this year, Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds should be the first choice for families because it is reminiscent of the good old times of classic animated fairy tales.

Chicken for Linda! by Sebastien Laudenbach and Chiara Malta, the Annecy winner, is also suitable for younger ages. At the centre of the humorous plot is a chase for chicken from which a single mother wants to make her daughter’s favourite dish that reminds her of her father. A rich ensemble of characters (an oafish policeman, a lovelorn truck driver with a poetic soul and a mean yoga instructor) of the town where the strike is taking place contributes to the realistic setting, but also to the best French social comedy. The mildly eccentric relationship between a mother and daughter with strong characters, children’s “monomanic” focus on their own goals, but also the general anarchy of the events (a spirit of rebellion) comparable to slapstick make an appealing, energetic and often hilarious film, although it is actually about decomposing mourning by focusing on life, children’s wishes and happy memories. The metaphorical potential of the work does not necessarily have to be in the foreground for the younger viewer, although it is indeed a question of hunger for emotions, that is, of an unconventional way of dealing with grief and guilt. Linda’s chicken is in fact her madeleine cookie, which invokes her father, an Italian with extraordinary culinary abilities, whom she barely remembers. The film also offers an insight into the challenges of single motherhood, but thanks to elements of musical, as well as to fast pace and fluid movement, it maintains a cheerful tone and airiness. A playful motley of expressive colours (shades of yellow and orange, purple, pink and red) is applied within the strong black lines of somewhat sketchy characters whose edges disappear in order to mediate emotional states or in the exteriors where they shine like fireflies, and the night scenes are especially creatively solved. It’s a style somewhat reminiscent of Laudenbach’s past Animafest film The Girl Without Hands, as well as of the picture books and comics of bandes dessinées.

A Touching Coming-of-age Caricature
When Adam Changes
, the Canadian coming-of-age film by Joël Vaudreuil awarded at the A-list festival in Ottawa, is based on a caricature-grotesque, relatively minimalist style somewhat similar to Beavis and Butthead, and the black humour of the realised metaphors. It is the story of a teenager whose body changes in accordance with his grandmother’s malicious comments and bullying. Along with a series of typical motifs of films about growing up (friendship, love, summer jobs, gangs, clumsiness and insecurity, self-confidence, family, questions of identity, class differences), When Adam Changes imposes itself as a work of strong emotions that in uncomfortable scenes (bizarre situations play out a slow-burning depiction of everyday life) hide the authentic potential of empathy. Set in a small Quebec town in the 1990s, the film manages to realistically capture many aspects of the subject, while achieving astonishment with sound (possibly inspired by the midi music of the video games of the time) and displaced imaginations/dreams. The style of the film and Vaudreuil’s name will be familiar to true Animafest connoisseurs who will remember The River’s Lazy Flow shown in 2014 in Grand Competition – Short Film.