Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:06 pm 
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ANNECY 2011
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The San Francisco Film Society again features highlights from the leading European animation festival at Annecy, France. It is shown at the new San Francisco Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street (Webster/Buchanan), January 13 & 15, 2012.
Showtimes 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, 9:00


These are short films. Though not included here, Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux's The Rabbi's Cat/Le chat du rabbin won the Annecy animation feature prize (last year's winner was Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Sfar is a famous French cartoonist and animator who recently directed the live feature Gainsbourg: Une vie héroique (SFIFF 2010). The Rabbi's Cat (which I haven't yet seen), based on Sfar's comic book series, has been much heralded. Let's hope this gets a US theatrical release. By the way Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, whose similar conversion of graphic novels into an animation feature, Persepolis, was a big award winner in 2007, turned out a somewhat less successful live-people feature from another graphic novel, Chicken with Plums , this year, which I reviewed in Paris. I wrote about the SFFS 2010 Animation Festival here, and also about the 2010 Best of Annecy, but did not get to view this year's SFFS Animation Festival.

This year's Best of Annecy series shows a range of examples of what animation can be and do, from fairy tale to mordant gloom, from neat constructivist stop motion to full scale human production, from gorgeous drawings to simple doodles, and an Italian animator called Blu took his drawings out onto walls and the sides of buildings. One thing that's missing, though, is any documentary or political or polemical element (but that turns out to be wrong if you count "How to Feed the World?," which I'd missed: see below). I'm not sure, to be honest, that this group necessarily represents what for me would be the "best" of Annecy 2011, had I been there. Or maybe they are, I don't know. They are some winners, not all. The grand prize "Crystal" winner, French filmmaker Patrick Jean's 3-minute "Pixels" isn't included but you can watch it here on YouTuibe. It is a rap-powered computerized version of the method used in "Big Bang Big Boom" -- animation invading the real world. Only in "Pixels" the pixels invade New York City, reduce it to pixels, and later the earth is reduced to a cube -- perhaps a meaningful statement about man and the machine, computerization, and the Pixar-ization of animated film. This ought to have been in the SFFS Annecy show.

But anyway the following films from Annecy 2011 are well worth watching if you're interested in animation because a win or even a show at Annecy is the pinnacle of the animator's profession. Annecy is in its 50th year, and it's the fifteenth biggest film festival in the world, and the second largest film festival in France, topped only by Cannes. Though not very well known in the US, The Annecy Festival is the Cannes and the Oscars of animation. It's huge. For a short survey of Annecy take a look at this introduction and quick 2011 coverage [url="http://www.youtube.com/user/annecyfestival"]video[/url] on YouTube. As one young Swedish animator says in this introduction, "Everything here is above everything else. Even the bad stuff is better."

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Lost Town of Switez.
Kamil Polak's (21min) "Lost Town of Switez" begins the set. Its images are real and vast, but they have the quality of hand drawing. The innocent 19th-century male protagonist is drawn into a maelstrom. The summary is "An accidental traveller, drawn by mysterious forces, discovers the secret of a ghostly town which lies at the bottom of a forgotten lake." This is based on an epic poem by Poland's most famous poet, Adam Mickiewicz,and concerns, an IMDb summary tells us, "a ghostly town deluged after a bloody massacre in medieval times." The story might make a lot more sense to you if you knew the poem and were Polish, but we can get that this is an "apocalyptic tale of destruction, religious miracles and spectral visitations." The version I saw didn't show how the film "imports paintings into digital 3D combined with both CG animation and visual special effects to create a mesmerizing aesthetic experience, set to a specially-commissioned full choral and orchestral score" and "dramatically merges literature, painting, music and animation." The effect was grand, but too condensed, and being wordless, was mysterious to an outsider. Some of the closeups of faces were a bit crude and disappointing, given the grandeur of the sweeping landscape sequences. "Lost Town of Switez" won the 2011 "Jean-Luc Xiberras" Award for a first film at Annecy.

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Big Bang Big Boom.
This is a 10min film by Blu, from Italy, with striking avant-garde music and sound by Andrea Martignoni. This film is really fresh. Howver well its point comes across about "evolution and its possible consequences," Blu dazzled with the ambition of a project in which stop motion is used to bring animation through a form of graffiti and street chalk art and painting onto walls and silos and parking lots moving out over a whole vast urban landscape. The invasion of animation drawing into real space is a terrific effect. Reptiles and prehistoric critters morph and move over walls. Plastic trash on the beach also comes to life and rolls up into a big ball. Human figures pop in and out, threatened by drawings. Art and life coexist in literal terms. Blu makes the world his canvas. Nothing parochial or inbred here. You have to see the film in action to grasp its real effect. Stills don't do it. This energetic and original film won the 2011 Annecy Special Jury Award. Watch the film on Vimeo here.
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The Eagleman Stag
Written and directed by Michael Please, The Eagleman Stag is an eccentric white-on-white animated stroll through the life of a philosophizing taxonomist who 'discovers that if you say the word "fly" for long enough it sounds like you're saying "life". Though this is of no real help.' Please has described his film as "a dark, cerebral comedy about a man's obsession with his quickening perception of time and the extreme lengths he goes to in order to counter the effect." He considers his use of monochrome stop motion as giving a surreal effect and wishes his settings to "create a sense of contemporary film noir." Please's film is more verbal and intellectual than the usual. The main character, Peter Eagleman, is voiced "by the cult British actor David Cann," whose manner and accent add great authority to the language. The writing is so good and the pacing so elegant -- the thoughtful monologue gives greater coherence than short animations often have -- that it's easy to miss how inventive and remarkable the images are. The techniques used are listed as "puppets, animated objects, after effects." Tony Guilfoyle voices Philip, the other character, and Benedict Please did the music scores and sound design. Surprsingly, given the sophistication, this is a "graduation film" for the Royal College of Art -- ostensibly, student work (and not even the top prize graduation film). It received an award of Special Distinction at Annecy; it also won an English BAFTA award. Here you can see an installation Please made to show parts he used. And you can also see a traile.

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Luminaris
Is a surreal 6min Argentinian film by Juan Pablo Zaramella using stop motion and other devices. It appears to be set in Paris in the Fifties (or is it a period Buenos Aires?). The chief actors are Gustavo Cornillón, María Alche and Luis Rial. Gustavo Cornillón also collaborated in the screenplay. A man works in a lightbulb factory. He puts little balls of glass in his mouth and a bulb pops out, and he sends it to a woman next to him who gives it light. A whole wall of men and woman in compartments do the same. Meanwhile the man is stealing the balls of glass and trying to hide the secrets of light. He gets caught and fired but he and the woman come away with the secret of combining many glass balls to make a giant bulb that they ride over the city like a balloon. The charm of the film is an unusually fluent use of stop motion to create a cartoonish world out of real people. The people don't walk, they slide across the sidewalk without moving. The theme is stated as "In a world controlled and timed by light, a common man has a plan that could change destiny." As with many short films it's not altogether clear what all this means, but you get what you bring to it, I guess. Anyway the technique and the design are very fine. The film won both the Audience and Fipresci Awards at Annecy in 2011.

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Chroniques de la poisse
(Tales of the Jinx) is a strange, dark 7min French animation whose summary goes, "Misfortune is a man with a fish head. Bubbles spreading unhappiness escape from his mouth."I was reminded of the "Lill' Abner" creation of Al Capp, Joe Bfstplk, who went around with a little cloud over his head, bringing unhappiness along with him wherever he went. One might also think of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 1997 horror film Cure, where a young man goes around, and wherever he goes people die. The film is fun at first, taking us onto a plane that crashes, due to the bubble, which leads to sick and drunken behavior by the pilots. What happens after that is hard to follow, and goes nowhere you'd be interested in going. You can watch this one, which is by Osman Cerfan, on Vimeo [url="http://vimeo.com/30596944"]here,[/url] and maybe you will figure it out. The images have a rather traditional cartoon style, and only the story line is different. This received the Canal + "creative aid" award for a short film at Annecy.

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Plato
Won the Annecy prize for best graduation film, and also the Junior Jury Award for a graduation film. It shows a man investigating the form of the cube. To develop this visual theme, it alternates between pen on paper drawings and 3D cardboard models. Léonard Cohen produced the film at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Cohen's classic development could be related to Paul Klee's description of his drawings as "taking a walk with a line." Plato would be a great film to show to children. It develops a sense of the difference between two and three dimensions, and offers the pleasing notion that a two-dimensional man might draw himself, purely by means of geometry and lines, into an existence three dimensions. The visuals are very simple, the ideas too, but the clarity is sufficient to last us for seven minutes and fifty seconds. It can be watched on Vimeo[url="http://vimeo.com/29504730"]here.[/url]

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Paths of Hate
is a Polish film that runs for an exhausting ten minutes. Directed by Damian Nenow, it's beautifully drawn, a kind of heavy metal comic book depiction of a battle to the death between two bomber pilots who run out of gas and ammunition and crash into each other in midair, still at it with pistols. They bleed and everything turns a beautiful red and crashes into the snowy mountains. It's gorgeous, and also just a macho boy's fantasy of combat that revels in violence and means nothing. But it sure is pretty, and the sound effects and music are pumped up and jazzy. The title is rather misleading because it makes you think maybe you're going to watch an anti-war or polemical film and you're not. This film can be watched online [url="http://www.flabber.nl/linkdump/animatie/dogfight-9850"]here.[/url]

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Sidewalk Scribble
is just that, a sequence of wobbly, floaty, mostly black and white line drawings of people and streets that exhibit the very essence of animation in its most crude and basic form. Nothing shiny and hard and Pixar-like here. Peter Lowey completed this little film in two weeks in Australia. Why did "Sidewalk Scribble" place third among thousands of entries in the Annecy YouTube competition? Well, you'd have to ask them, but maybe it's the classic simplicity, the light touch, the positive ending (with a couple kissing on a park bench amid falling leaves) and the nifty way the sequence is coordinated with a performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4 in E-Flat Major by pianist Vadim Chaimovich. Lowey makes his fluttering lines sketching in the buildings of a city in perfect sync with the piano in film's first fifteen seconds. This is a film of 2 minutes 25 seconds that celebrates the power of brevity to delight and cheer. "Sidewalk Scribble" can be watched on [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pYfonB78_Y/"]YouTube.[/url]

The preceding is a rundown on the films in a screener DVD I was sent for some reason two in the Best of Annecy SFFS [url="http://www.sffs.org/Exhibition/SF-Film-Society-Cinema/the-best-of-annecy.aspx"]program[/url]weren't on the disk, "How to Feed the World?" (Denis Van Waerebeke, Poland, 10 min: [url="http://vimeo.com/8812686"]Vimeo[/url]) and "A Morning Stroll" (Grant Orchard, England, 7 min: [url="http://www.studioaka.co.uk/#/work-amorningstroll"]preview[/url]).

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SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street (Webster/Buchanan) [CK photo].

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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