World Festival of Animated Film /
3 to 8 June 2024
World Festival of Animated Film / 3 to 8 June 2024
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Pictures From Memory: Animafest Zagreb 2024 Grand Competition – Short Film

Animafest Zagreb’s Grand Competition – Short Film is one of the three most prestigious artistic animation competitions in the world. The jury will decide who will win the Grand Prix and qualify for the Oscar this year among 35 works from 23 production countries, which include Croatia with three works. Daniel Šuljić, Martina Meštrović and Ivan Slipčević made up the selection committee that accepted less than 4% of the submitted works. Seven films will celebrate their world premiere, three will have an international premiere, while all 35 will be screened to the Croatian audience for the first time.

On the technical side, the competition is characterised by a certain ‘return to the pencil and graphism’, gorgeous colours (especially oil and acrylic) of painterly films and the hybridization of stop-motion with 2D and 3D. Thematically, the competition is somewhat more difficult to reduce to common denominators, but there is a noticeable number of works dedicated to personal and cultural memories, alienation, mythology, psychology of instincts, the environment, war, and especially women’s experiences and perspectives presented in the two most critically acclaimed films leading up to Animafest.

A Woman Is a Woman
The depiction of a relevant social problem – the too long stay of a mature girl in the family home – in the film 27 by Flóra Anna Buda is connected with a partly psychedelic and partly grotesque treatment of explicit sexual fantasies, youthful clubbing, relative poverty and deep frustration. Energetic (seamlessly edited and danceable), authentic (autobiographical inspiration), humorous and sad at the same time, the film with dominant red, pink and purple tones won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, the Crystal in Annecy, and was nominated for the European Film Award. Daria Kashcheeva’s Electra, a technically ambitious hybrid of stop-animated (pixilation and puppets) film and live action segments, is also dedicated to the personal memory of the protagonist, who uses psychotherapeutic and performance methods during the auto-dissection of her 10th birthday. Screened in Cannes and Annecy, and awarded in Ottawa and Toronto, Electra is primarily a spectacular study of the traumatic formation of female identity in the context of a complex relationship with parents, Barbie culture, dental accessories, and the establishment of sexuality and body image. It is also a contemporary reinterpretation of ancient myth and psychoanalysis.

After Mermaids and Rhinos (Animafest 2018), Viktória Traub returns to the Grand Competition with Shoes and Hooves, a work in which she again combines mythological/fairytale inspirations and a female perspective. A centaur working in a beauty salon longs for the feet that would allow her to wear shoes. Having a romance with a rich shoemaker, a crocodile who has difficulty resisting primal urges, the heroine searches for self-acceptance in the world of animal-human hybrids, i.e. of suppression and conformity. The original character and background design (painted with special digital brushes) is complemented by imaginative depictions of the joining of two bodies. In a combination of ink and watercolours applied over the drawings, the Colombian The Bitch by Carla Melo Gampert narrates the experiences of another hybrid: a bird-girl who ‘flies away from home’, a sexually frustrated protective mother and a pet dog in order to experience carnal pleasures and disappointments herself. It is a film that questions the roles of mother, daughter and intimate partner. The Finnish Elli Vuorinen, in her fourth Animafest film Flower Show, connects floriculture and the generationally differentiated 19th century female gender roles in a defamiliarizing, disjointed and metaphorical way. The allusive depiction of highly codified social interactions and games (hunting, croquet, exhibition) in vivid colours, slightly retro (but by no means uncritically nostalgic) design and associative editing is accompanied by, for Vuorinen, a typically thoughtful soundscape. She found inspiration for the film in her own country life, gardening and motherhood. The Korean Yumi Joung, winner of Animafest in 2014, drew Circle with her distinctive minimalist style. It is a psychological miniature that can be easily interpreted as an insight into the alienation of an ensemble of typical passers-by, but it can also be seen as a comment on the ease of conditioning the modern humankind who unquestioningly accepts a restriction imposed by a disinterested girl.

The Slovenian-Croatian (Finta Film, Adriatic Animation) Zarja Menart’s Three Birds in a multi-layered combination of collage and oil animation achieves a somewhat dark, folklore-magical atmosphere that touches on the relationship between humans and nature (and its cycles), but possibly also alludes to the psyche of the heroine in an unusual relationship with a bird-faced grandmother. Italian veteran Gianluigi Toccafondo, known for his unique creative process that begins with photographic prints, goes through painting, and ends with the camera, in his new work La Voix des Sirènes offers a rhapsody of colours, metamorphoses and mutual ‘devouring’ of sea life through which the siren call breaks. The film incorporates, at first tense and menacing, and then milder, investigative atmospheres, along with mythological and motherhood motifs, as well as anti-colonialist and ecological allusions. It is also difficult to take one’s eyes off the visual explosion of motifs of femininity, sisterhood and motherhood in South Korean director Inju Park’s Reborn with You – this eye candy which will have the world premiere in Zagreb is framed by floral, but also mythological details, and impenetrable, but emotional voice-over. With a beautiful and unpretentious black and white drawing, Delia Hess associatively lines the ‘overflowing’ motifs of urban everyday life and the female body accompanied by the muzak of the telephone line On Hold – a work whose world premiere at Animafest could also be named ‘scenes of floating alienation’. In the cute puppet film Falling for Greta, Gustavo Arteaga creatively and wittily visualizes an urban professional falling in love with an attractive plumber. Arteaga complements the usual haptics of felt dolls with an excellent set design and the use of the leitmotif of water. Against this richness, only three films dealt more explicitly with contemporary masculinity. Fortunately, their quality is not proportional to their quantity.

The Man Who Loved Women
Nicolas Keppens’s third film Beautiful Men turns to puppets to recount the Istanbul experiences of three brothers awaiting a hair transplant. Problems of communication, masculinity burdened with insecurity and loneliness, and specific type of tourism are at the centre of the film, which, along with a generous dose of cringe, imposes itself with effective humour. Keppens somewhat moderated his inclination towards caricature, criticism of the petty bourgeoisie and combining emotionality with the grotesque à la Ulrich Seidl in order to allow some sympathy for the characters in the film. Francis Canitrot’s humorous and lively Peeping Mom, about the inappropriate relationship of a horny old woman towards the son who takes care of her, points to the far-reaching consequences of excessive parental concern for the intimate life of the offspring, as well as the need for the attitudes of the ancestors to be ‘dead and buried’ at some point. This hybrid of stop-motion and 3D, created by the photogrammetric treatment of puppets, treats the complex of sexual drive, voyeurism and aging directly, tangibly, imaginatively, and without excessive explicitness – precisely thanks to the chosen technique. Screened at the Cannes festival, Peeping Mom found a distant inspiration in Francois Truffaut’s film The Man Who Loved Women. As an answer to the metaphysical doubts of masculinity Ivan Li offers Drizzle in Johnson – a dizzying 3D pastiche merging cyberpunk, psychedelia, grotesque humour, body horror, genitalia and violence. The initial appearance of a cheap video game engine is thoroughly elaborated with peculiar concepts, excellent editing, impeccable rhythm, experimental procedures and black and white aesthetics of the central part, while the film always retains its narrative. Probably the most intense experience of this year’s selection is certainly not for everyone, but more daring media explorers should embark on this odyssey, because the common platitude ‘visceral’ has rarely been more applicable.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Japanese animator Ryo Orikasa returns to Animafest (The Datum Point, Golden Zagreb Award 2016) with the film Miserable Miracle inspired by the work of the same name by the poet and painter Henri Michaux. The winner of Ottawa, a hand-drawn (pencil, ink, paint) film with impeccable fluidity of movement is partly abstract and partly figurative representation of sentences that take on different, even pictographic forms when illustrating a text that deals with anger and violence, mountains and the sea, the soliloquy of a mescaline addict, but above all with itself. Simultaneously hilarious, wistful and bizarre, Nina Gantz’s puppet meta-film Wander to Wonder is a ‘behind the camera’ look at a typical television, live-action animated children’s series of the 1980s, but after the death of the author who leaves miniature actors behind in an abandoned home studio. In an attempt to keep the series and themselves alive, before they sink into their primary urges they persist in unfulfilled Shakespearean, juggling and emotional ambitions, thus inadvertently deconstructing the codes of similar children’s programs and video aesthetics. Wander to Wonder premiered in Venice and was nominated for the European Film Award. With a masterful artistic sensibility creating scenes that could connect them in one of the possible worlds, the record holder among Animafest winners Georges Schwizgebel breathes life into two painting canvases, Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863) and Félix Vallotton’s White and Black (1913), in the film From One Painting... to Another. He does this with acrylic painting on cels, fluid transformations and the prominent role of classical, in this case guitar music. Catherine Buffat and Jean-Luc Gréco, a couple who made their debut in this competition in 2016, return with a grotesque paper cutout with a metacinematic subtext A Very Twisted Tale about sibling bullying and an attempt at revenge. Grotesque is also notable in Swiss dystopia Matta and Matto (also shown at Sundance), a story about a surreal travelling hotel where deep desires for touch are manifested for the price of a finger. The work of Bianca Caderas and Kerstin Zemp, which explores issues of closeness and intimacy, normality and madness, and the need for power in a quirky way, is undoubtedly also a reflection on the pandemic prohibition.

Pictures from Memory
After the enthusiastic reception of her feature-length The Crossing (Animafest 2022), Florence Miailhe, in her distinctive techniques of oil painting on glass and canvas, presents the film Butterfly, a work of Gauguinian artistic evocations about the memories of the French-Jewish swimmer Alfred Nakache. Award-winning at the Berlinale, Butterfly traces the protagonist’s childhood and youth, the career of an Olympic swimmer and fatherhood, through the Second World War, Auschwitz and family tragedy, to the post-war Olympics, work with young people and old age burdened by memories. The chosen technique is not only beautiful, but extremely functional in achieving seamless chronotopic transitions. Inspired by unrelated impressions of his own childhood, a virtuoso of original animated points of view Tomek Popakul in the traditional black and white ink aesthetics of Zima, co-directed with Kasumi Ozeki and awarded in Ottawa, gives a magical realist mosaic of an island fishing village. After a red noise prologue recording the murder of kittens, the film bounces around a pious girl’s experiences, while further events include an animal rebellion, a mob violence, an encounter with Jesus, etc., as well as themes such as alcoholism and indifference. Speaking of fresh animated POVs, attention should also be paid to the allegory of the impossibility and/or end of love that ‘flies away’ – the South Korean film In the Clouds (dir. Seok-ho Shin). The ‘impossible’, whimsical focal points are paired with a cartoonishly appealing depiction of the separation of yet another unhappy contemporary couple.

The latest work by Veljko and Milivoj Popović is also dedicated to memory – that of Tisja Kljaković Braić remembering her childhood in Split in the 1980s. Žarko, You Will Spoil the Child! is a partial adaptation of her book U malu je uša đava, and she also did character drawings and backgrounds of the film produced by Prime Render Studio, Bagan Films and 3D2D Animatori. An honest, witty and touching family story focuses primarily on Tisja’s relationship with her grandparents. One of the best-selling Croatian books of the past decade is thus getting its own animated adaptation, which Animafest is premiering to the world. The Flensburg professor Klaus Hoefs also leads us to the summer pastoral of his own memories in the film Uncles and I (a world premiere), the estate which he approaches analytically and typologically, segmenting space, objects, ambience and memory. At times resembling a series of pencil studies, the film, regardless of occasional subtle digital effects and sketchy characters, appeals to fans of good old graphite. With one eye probably also fixed on his own childhood, Osman Cerfon offers us, on the other hand, a witty miniature about children’s nature Aaaah! shown at Berlinale and Clermont-Ferrand.

The Chilean Notebook of Names is an artistic, stop-animated and 2D memorial to 51 minors who disappeared in the early days of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña, artists deeply devoted to the fraught history of their country (The Wolf House, TheAndes, The Bones), sign the fruit of careful, transmedia research and collective work with the participants of their workshops. An experimental film created by combining traditional and stop animation of stereoscopic macro photographs (S3D), Entropic Memory shows the processes of rotting and rusting of family albums under the influence of water. Dealing with sunken, faded and ‘corroded’ memories in this way, Nicolas Brault creates an unmistakably sensory work of distinct tactile suggestion. Moïa Jobin-Paré’s Families' Albums with atmospheric juxtapositions of layered depictions of landscape, body and space in a hybrid of drawings, 2D, film scratching and photographs also point to the fragmentary nature of memory. The film, whose poetics mostly resembles retro-nostalgic found footage, was awarded in Ottawa.

Inconvenient Truths
The Animafest 2022 winner Laura Gonçalves (The Garbage Man) returns to the festival with the world premiere of the film Percebes, created in collaboration with Alexandra Ramires (Tie, Animafest 2020) and Zagreb’s favourite Portuguese studio BAP, whose films regularly stand out for their lavish appearance and current topics, regularly connected with the environment. Percebes is no exception – through a species of unusual-looking shells that inhabit the waters of the Algarve, the work speaks of a community ‘born’ from the sea while symbolically pregnant delicacies travel to the market and the table. Anthropological and documentarist in its procedures, the film bathed in orange and blue tones also comments on the far-reaching consequences of tourism on local life. The Miracle by Nienke Deutz is also about tourism – based on the interesting premise of a middle-aged woman in a resort suitable for families and pregnant women. In a thoughtful blend of form and content, the characters were drawn as transparent, then cut out, coloured and placed into stop-motion sets.

After three years in a row (2020–2022) making it to the Student Film Competition, Sunčana Brkulj is finally making her debut in the most prestigious Animafest competition with Butterfly (Adriatic Animation, Late Love Production). In the vivid, saturated combination of claymation and 2D, she somewhat deviates from her earlier colours, but not from the recognisable synchrony, multiplicity and appealing design of the characters. The organic fusion and parallelism of life (temporarily stopped by the clogging of the well) takes place this time on pastel backgrounds, but music and sound are still important structural elements of the film, which can be watched again and again in search of missed details. In 2018, Parisian animator Alice Saey delighted the Animafest audience with the music video Mark Lotterman – Happy with dancing geese, so in 2020 fans also flocked to Careful for Jo Goes Hunting. This year, Saey will show us Flatastic, a dystopian vision that this time has manta rays dancing around it. Their ambitions, however, are much bigger – a rebellion against the overcrowded, plastic human civilization that they will flatten in their own image and return it to the sea and dance. The ecological parable of pastel, pink-purple-orange and blue-green shades is the most ambitious demonstration of Saey’s truly unique poetics of organic choreography and group dynamics so far.

Inspired by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Stuttgart-based author Irina Rubina (also known for her music videos) in today relatively rare pinscreen technique premieres Contradiction of Emptiness, reflecting on her native Russian and adopted German language – the media of lullabies, but also of crimes. The Route by Iranian author Babak Beigi, another world premiere, puts us in the shoes of a truck driver who travels the same road for most of his life, transporting prisoners to massacre site and trying to muffle the sounds of shooting with loud music. The film possesses distinct snowy, black-and-white ambient, as well as cyclical tension underlined by the extraordinary sound image and artistic use of profile shots, while its unexpected ending can be interpreted as an existentialist comment on the (un)endurance of the individual psyche in the face of collective horror. Finally, the Greek-Belgian puppet film Ready by Eirini Vianelli, an author who is also building a theatre career in addition to animated films, takes us to the Greek Parliament where employees are dying of boredom, absurdity and senselessness in anticipation of the apocalypse. A political satire with an understanding of the class issues suddenly turns into a catchy musical.