Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 5:39 pm 
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Scene from The Lost Thing

The long and the short of Annecy 2010

There were several surprises and differences from last year, and not altogether happy ones, in the selection from the prestigious Annecy, France 50th annual International Animated Film Festival and Market event. There was one rather long short, 20 minutes, one of 16 minutes, and the rest 4-7 minutes. There wasn't as wide a range of styles and approaches as last year's event. There was an emphasi on meticulous and ostentatiously hand-drawn animation and upbeat messages. I'm all if favor of supporting the more human look of the hand-drawn instead of the sometimes overly clean, impersonal creations of computer animation, but last year's Annecy selections showed greater variety and more innovation (as did last year's Play It by Eye music video choices: see my coverage for last year's 4th Annual SFIAF). Different jury, different year. This presentation included all the Annecy 2010 shorts winners except Les Journaux de Lipsett/Lipsett's Diaries, a Canadian film by Theodore Ushev. Note: this was not the "best" of Annecy, only the best shorts. There were various other awarded animations/computer films, such as the innovative and sweet 3 1/2 minute webcam music video from Japan, Sour's Hibi no neiro/Tone of Everyday. Image

Still from Angry Man

ANGRY MAN. Some secrets should remain secret (Anita Killi, Norway 2009, 20 min).
That blurb is strange: the film is about not keeping mum about destructive family problems. This is a rather long short, 20 minutes, about child abuse, from Norway, about a little boy who is terrified of his raging dad. The story is horrifying and very sad, though it has a quietly hopeful ending, almost too much so. The drawing is elegant and very expressionistic, which as many have noted of this much-awarded film, conveys the emotions of the boy vividly. (It won both the Special Jury Award and Audience Award here.) Two-dimensional puppets and stop-motion are used. The slogan is "pass it on." The boy is hopeless but the birds in the trees whisper this message to him, and with the help of a rather frightening-looking but beautifully drawn and friendly big black dog the boy writes a note telling what's going on at home with his dad ("he hits") and going right to the top for help: the King! The King then duly appears at his house, robe, crown, and all. The father, who formerly appeared huge, his arms encircling the room and all in it, now shrinks smaller than the little boy and cowers on the floor asking for forgiveness, which leads to his being sent to the palace to cool off. When the boy later goes for a day's visit his father has become kindly, though traces of the terror remain in the traumatized child. "Pass it on." This is a message film designed to appeal to kids and though its way of presenting the problem and its solution is not at all realistic, it might work well with the very young, who knows? There is no doubt that the opening part, which hits its mark right away (arguably a little too soon), is deeply moving and disturbing.

The surprise is that while last year the SF Annency selections were notable for their creative and technical invention, this time many of the films consist (or simulate) hand-drawn storytelling, either just to amuse or to instruct. Many of these films look as if they could have been done in the 1950's. No sense is conveyed this time of how animations can be edgy and adult, or can be wicked or intellectually challenging as well as cute and uplifting.

DON'T GO You can’t see everything, like a cat’s best friends for instance (Turgut Akacik, Turkey 2010, 4 min).
This film uses actual film of a very playful young cat chasing a toy. The toy is animated. Not much too it really, but harmless good fun. Again not quite clear what the point of the blurb line is. The title also seems unclear. Winner of one of several Annecy Special Distinction Awards.

Still from I Forgive You/Je te pardonne

I FORGIVE YOU Two wrestlers have a fight and forgive themselves (Pierre Mousquet, Jérôme Cauwe, Belgium 2009, 5 min).
This film in French depicts super-muscular men who end up kissing each other on the lips in front of a big crowd at the end of a boisterous contest. Does this show that real men can be gentle, or are they gay, or is this just a silly film? Not exactly clear. Perhaps again as in Angry Man, a message for children in intended.

JEAN-FRANÇOIS Jean-François is a swimming champion nostalgic for his childhood spent beside the sea (Tom Haugomat, Bruno Mangyoku, France 2009, 6 min).
This animation, again made up of line drawing and much of it at least done by hand. The drawing is so stylized and full of curves, the figures all so big, round, and bloated, that when he wins and is out in a grand car in a suit (the most visually memorable segment), Jean-François still keeps his swimming cap on, probably so we can recognize who he is from the other similar-looking figures. Too much like Forgive You, this focuses on a strangely de-masculiineized, bloated athlete. Winner of the "Jean-Luc Xiberras" Award for a first film.

LEBENSANDER A girl finds the entire world in a leaf (Angela Steffen, Germany 2009, 6 min).
This film focuses on elaborate psychedelic imagery of shapes within shapes within shapes, curves and colors swallowing each other and returning to an image of a child looking at a leaf. The emphasis is on visual intricacy rather than narrative, of which there is virtually none. Again there is a predominance of curves in the drawing, which is more in the realm of skillful doodles than references to the known world.

THE LOST THING Bring a strange creature home from the beach and see if anybody notices (Andrew Ruhemann, Shaun Tan, Australia 2010, 16 min).
Finally in this too-much-of-a-sameness collection, a real change of pace, and winner of the Crystal for Best Animated Short (Fabulous Mr. Fox, in SFIAF in 2009, won the feature animation prize at Annecy this year). Narrated in a pleasantly everyday Australian voice, The Lost Thing opens up a richer, larger world that goes beyond the sketchbook to the style of children's books, fully populated with quaint mimicry of richly reimagined real-world stuff . A man gathering bottle-caps on the beach for his collection inadvertently comes upon a very large critter that looks like a giant pot with many openings. There is a living beast inside with twirly tentacles. It turns out to be playful and quite friendly. The man takes it around hoping to find where it should go and what can be done with it. While The Lost Thing is more like commercial animation, it is also fresh and original. In both visual and narrative terms, this is a great little film. About a misfit contraption almost nobody loves, this is sort of an understated and concise WALL·E from Down Under.

Still from Love & Theft

LOVE & THEFT "And I’m still carrying the gift you gave, it’s a part of me now, it’s been cherished and saved, it’ll be with me unto the grave, and then unto eternity." (Andreas Hykade, Germany 2009, 7 min). This won the Annecy Special Award for Original Music and the jaunty sounds are attractive and well integrated into the hand-drawn film of constantly morphing centered line images mostly of cartoonish faces and some symbols, which have nothing much to do with the title or blurb but, though repetitious, would have delighted me as a kid. This in concentrated form is a wet dream of Forties-Fifties-Sixties comics, Al Capp meets Walt Disney meets Rudolf Dirks' Katzenjammer Kids meets R. Crumb meets the Hairy Who. (Needless to say, no still can do justice to a film like this, which reminds us that animations consist of, traditionally, thousands of drawings, which flick by second by second, and that's the essence of them.) An elegant and visually quick-witted little film.

Overall, instead of including all but one of the winning shorts it could have been better to pare down the very similar films and include contrasting short ones from other categories instead. As representing the biggest most important animation festival in Europe this hour and ten minutes was a bit on the solemn and preachy side. The generalization that animations are uniquely suitable for conveying emotion is a misleading one, since they are traditionally used for comedy, not gloomy lesson-teaching, and have included much mechanical and gleefully sadistic stuff. Just watch any Looney Tunes.

The Best of Annecy (69 min) was seen and reviewed as part of the 2010 San Francisco International Animation Festival. Public screenings were Friday, November 12, 7:00 pm & Sunday, November 14, 12:45 pm at Landmark's Embarcadero Center.

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