Monday, May 30, 2016

#2,114. Hungu (2008)

Directed By: Nicolas Brault

Music by: René Lussier

Premiere: This film premiered at the 2008 Rendez-vous du Cinéma Québécois

Trivia: Walked off with two awards, including Best Animation, at the 2008 Palm Springs International ShortFest

I conclude my week-long journey through the films of Animated Express with Hungu, a story about a mother’s love that’s so strong not even death can extinguish it.

While following the rest of her tribe on a journey for food and water, a young mother staggers and falls. As she lay dying in the heat, the chief collects her son and continues on, with the others close behind him. To ensure that her son survives, the mother finds a way to provide the food and drink he needs, but it’s after her death that she gives him the greatest gift of all.

Animated in the style of African rock drawings, Hungu breathes new life into an ancient folk tale of a mother and her son. Even as the end draws near, the mother (who has been left alone to die) creates a flowing river with her tears (one that will nourish her son and the others), and when the tribal leaders are unable to hunt down any food, she sends some fish their way. But when she too tries to drink the water, the tribe’s leaders strike her down. Her son, distraught over what’s happened, refuses to leave her side, and is there when she breathes her last. But the mother ensures that it isn’t the end of their time together.

Despite its simplistic imagery, director Nicolas Braut’s Hungu is a poignant bit of animation that weaves a fantastical, sometimes heartbreaking tale of love and loss, and does so wonderfully.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

#2,113. Robes of War (2008)

Directed By: Michèle Cournoyer

Written By: Michèle Cournoyer

Awards: Won the award for Best Animated Short

Trivia: Played at 2009 Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival

Written and directed by Michèle Cournoyer, 2008’s Robes of War presents armed conflict as seen through the eyes of a woman, one so completely torn apart by war that she herself has been transformed into a weapon.

Featuring hand-drawn animation, Robes of War is a most unusual anti-war film, relying not on gruesome imagery, bot on a series of interesting transitions to get its point across. With an unnamed woman at the center of it all, the film watches as her body twists and contorts, forming into dangerous weapons (most notably an armored tank) and, even more intriguing, into men on the battlefield (the fingers on both hands change into soldiers, each armed and fighting their “enemies” on the other side). Perhaps the film’s most clever, and indeed most troubling transition occurs when the woman appears to be crying. Instead of a tear rolling down her cheek, though, it’s the body of slain soldier, which she then cradles as if it were the remains of a close family member.

Cournoyer’s Robes of War definitely has something to say about warfare, and how it affects not only the men who fight, but the wives and mothers left behind, each of whom feels the war as deeply as those on the battlefield. The fact that Robes of War is also quite stylish and visually arresting only works to its advantage.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

#2,112. Subservience (2007)

Directed By: Patrick Bouchard

Written By: Martin Roldophe Villeneuve

Awards: Was nominated for the Grand Prix Award and the 2008 Hiroshima International Animation Festival

Trivia: This film was also released as Reverence

Director Patrick Bouchard’s 2007 animated film Subservience is perhaps the most thought-provoking short I’ve seen thus far, a pointed attack on class system that explores the callousness of the upper crust, as well as their vulnerability when left to fend for themselves.

Story-wise, there isn’t much to it. An aristocrat walks through a barren wasteland followed by his servant, whose job is to ensure his master’s feet never actually touch the dirt (the poor guy does this by continually rolling and unrolling two short pieces of red carpet, moving one to the front while his master is on the other). After some time, they come to what we assume was a pre-arranged meeting place, where the aristocrat encounters a pretty young woman ( with a servant of her own) standing on a patch of red carpet much like his. The two meet, exchange pleasantries, and head off into the distance together, all as their servants work tirelessly alongside them. But when the woman accidentally drops her handkerchief, it leads to a catastrophe that neither the aristocrat nor his female companion ever considered.

Produced with stop-motion, Subservience (also released as Reverence in areas of France and Canada) features some intriguing visuals, with characters that, while certainly not attractive, are always interesting. Yet even more powerful than the imagery are the emotions the movie stirs in its audience, the anger at seeing two supposedly “refined” people mistreat their “lessers”, and the frustration that comes when they (and we the audience) realize just how helpless these two “important” people are when left on their own.

In 8 short minutes, Patrick Bouchard hammers his point home. He has created one hell of a movie here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

#2,111. Ha'Aki (2008)

Directed By: Iriz Pääbo

Written By: Iriz Pääbo

Premiere: This movie had its premiere at the 2008 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma de Montréal

Trivia: Former NHL player Eric Nesterenko served as the writer / dir's inspiration

I continue my journey through the short films of Animation Express by looking at a very unique motion picture that pays tribute to that most “Canadian” of sports: hockey.

Ha’Aki, a 2008 movie by writer / director Iriz Pääbo, utilizes a technique its maker calls “animbits” (a process by which the sound and images are created simultaneously) to tell the story of a hockey game. At first, the scenes are familiar: players moving about the ice, passing the puck and shooting it towards the net as the crowd cheers. It isn’t long, though, before Ha’Aki adopts a more impressionistic view of its subject, relying on bubbles, flashing lights, and geometric “pieces” to signify the game is still in progress.

Apparently not the biggest fan of hockey herself, Pääbo used Eric Nesterenko, a former player with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, as her inspiration, and from the looks of it, she couldn’t have picked a better one. I’ve been to more than my share of games over the years (In the ‘80s, my father had season tickets for the Philadelphia Flyers), and Ha’Aki does manage to capture the excitement, as well as the adrenaline rush, of watching live hockey. But Ha’Aki is also highly artistic, using the backdrop of a game to present imagery that is, at times, quite stunning (at the halfway point of the movie, we see what appear to be players continuing the game, yet surrounded on all sides by bright lights, which flash and recede in unison with what’s happening on the ice).

Those who love hockey will undoubtedly enjoy Ha’Aki, but thanks to the filmmakers unique approach to the material, even those who have never experienced a single game will find something to their liking in this short.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

#2,110. Land of the Heads (2009)

Directed By: Claude Barras, Cédric Louis

Written By: Claude Barras, Julien Sulser

Premiere: This movie had its U.S. premiere at the 2010 Nashville Film Festival

Trivia: Was nominated for Best Short at the 2009 Montréal World Film Festival

Here’s a macabre little tale that sprang from the minds of animators Claude Barras and Cédric Louis (who also teamed up to make 2007’s Sainte barbe). Released in 2009, Land of the Heads features a vampire and his wife, who reside at the top of a tall tower. Unhappy with her wrinkles, the wife has cut off her own head, and now forces her dutiful husband to go out each night in search of a new one. One young girl after another falls victim to the vampire, but each time the wife (who is a picky sort) rejects the new severed head. Before long, there’s a huge pile of noggins on the floor, at which point the vampire decides he’s had enough.

A fantasy / comedy with just a hint of horror, Land of the Heads is a vibrant, imaginative bit of stop-motion animation. Though the story is set primarily at night, there’s plenty of color (including lots of red), and the characters themselves, though unmistakably dark in nature, are humorous enough in appearance to keep the proceedings on the light side. Land of the Heads also marks that rare occasion where we’ feel sorry for a vampire; I couldn’t help but chuckle each time his wife knocked on his casket, demanding that he bring her fresh heads (for each venture, she gave him a new, more potent weapon with which to complete his task, including a chainsaw). Because he’s undead, the poor guy may be forced to carry out this arduous task for all eternity, and we share his frustration each time his finicky wife sends him out to kill again.

Not to worry, though, because Land of the Heads does have a happy ending.

Well, at least as happy as we are gonna get in a story of this sort!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

#2,109. Sainte barbe (2007)

Directed By: Claude Barras, Cédric Louis

Written By: Cédric Louis

Premiere: This movie premiered at the 2007 Nuit du Court Métrage de Lausanne

Trivia: Won the award for Best Swiss Short at the 2007 Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival

Young Léon loves his grandfather, and is especially fond of the old man’s bushy black beard. Grandma, who recalls fondly how handsome Grandpa was in the old days when he had just a moustache, would like nothing more than to cut off the old man’s scraggly beard, but Léon won’t allow her to do so. Unlike most people, Léon knows that his grandfather’s beard possesses magical qualities (moments after some caterpillars fall into it, they emerge as beautiful butterflies). Alas, not even an enchanted beard is powerful enough to keep poor Grandpa alive forever.

A stop-motion animated short from directors Claude Barras and Cédric Louis, 2007’s Sainte berbe may look a bit rough around the edges, but its unpolished look only adds to its overall charm. What’s most impressive about the movie, however, is its story, which, at the beginning, is carefree and light-hearted; at one point, when Grandpa dozes off, Grandma grabs a pair of scissors and tries to cut off his beard. Realizing what she’s up to, Léon quickly drops a plate on the ground, which makes a noise loud enough to awaken Grandpa from his slumber. At about the halfway point, though, Sainte berbe takes a decidedly dark turn, and it’s thanks to Claude Barras and Cédric Louis that the movie remains just as appealing even when it’s tugging on your heart strings.

Like many of the shorts in the Animation Express collection, Sainte berbe is dialogue-free (apart from the background music, the movie is completely silent). But then, no words were needed. Equal parts joyous and sad, Sainte berbe puts its images to great use, relating a story that’s sure to have you laughing one minute and crying the next.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#2,108. Drux Flux (2008)

Directed By: Theodore Ushev

Music By: Alexander Mosolov

Premiere: This movie premiered at the 2008 Ottawa International Animation Festival

Trivia: Won the award for Best Sound at the 2009 International Animation Film Festival

It’s been a while since I checked out the movies on Animation Express, a collection of shorts (many produced by the National Film Board of Canada) spanning a variety of genres and techniques. The movies I’ve seen thus far ranged from good (Sleeping Betty) to great (Madame Tutli-Putli, Ryan), and this time around, I decided to watch Theodore Ushev’s Drux Flux, an abstract short about industrialism and progress that’s all at once jarring and engrossing.

Originally in 3-D, Drux Flux begins innocently enough, presenting images of machinery and factories, most popping on and off screen so quickly that we barely get so much as a glimpse of them. As the music of Russian composer Alexander Mosolov starts to swell, the images move a bit more rapidly, and are joined by Russian propaganda posters (which have also been slightly animated) that praise the worker. Soon, geometric shapes and blueprints have joined the fracas, all leading up to a reference to Herbert Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man” (which collapses in a heap just as the movie ends).

Drux Flux definitely has something to say about progress and industry, and the dehumanizing effect both have on the individual (the few people we do see as the pictures and clips storm by are relegated to the background, working the machines). It’s a message reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but more than its social commentary, Drux Flux stands as a shining example of the power of film, and how things like rapid cuts and sharp angles can affect our emotions as well as our perceptions. As the pictures were flying by, I found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed, even off-kilter, and the reason why had as much to do with the movie’s style as it did the photos themselves.

Taken on their own, the images in Drux Flux are nothing more than a few hundred (thousand?) snapshots of buildings and machines. Toss them together in the manner that Ushev has in this film, and they have an unmistakable power.