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LIAF 2021 Article: Playing with Emotion by Malcolm Turner

International Competition Programme 3 - Playing with Emotion, LIAF, London International Animation Festival

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The results are in, 99% of all dogs think human beings are funny things. The survey methodology can be readily replicated at home if you have a spare dog on hand. “Hey Bitzie, are humans funny?”. One woof for “Yes”, two woofs for “Yes”, sustained blank stare for “Yes”, sideways look at your food bowl for “Yes”. Chew hand for “I’ll get back you, you weirdo”.

Deep Water – Anna Dudko

Deep Water – Anna Dudko

Funny haha. Funny peculiar. Funny too-complex-to-understand. “You’re funny” as in “you’re hilarious”. “You’re funny” as in you shouldn’t give up your day job (even if something funny happened to you on the way to it this morning). “The funny thing is I thought I had a cold but actually all I needed was open-heart surgery and a liver transplant”.

Generally flung around as an adjective, ‘funny’ does a bit of moonlighting as a pseudo-noun: the funnies used to be in the back of the paper.

Mel Brooks said “tragedy is when I cut my finger but comedy is when you fall in a sewer and die”. On more than one occasion, American comedian Jon Stewart quipped that “comedy equals tragedy plus time”. It wasn’t his quote but he made it his own. One memorable night on his iconic ‘The Daily Show’ he rolled it out, took a breath and, staring down the barrel of the camera, said “I just need more f@#king time….but I’ll settle for less tragedy”. He’d had enough of trying to find the funny side of the human condition and he soon-after stepped back from the show. Perhaps his dog was one of the 1%ers.

Candela – Marc Riba & Anna Solanas

Candela – Marc Riba & Anna Solanas

Stewart was on to something. We all know it’s true. Almost nobody is emotionally one dimensional or defined wholly by their most obvious characteristic or their most public of outpourings. Some of the greatest writers, authors whose words have helped millions navigate their own inner selves, have abandoned or neglected their own families. Perhaps we all possess roughly the same amount of emotional fuel and while most of us sensibly spread it as evenly as we are able, others bet the farm on one big play.

 

Firefighter – Yulia Aronova

Firefighter – Yulia Aronova

We are all 85% banana and psychologically the stuff that separates you or me from the most different person on the planet that we think we can identify, is just about nothing. And yet, we are all different – very different. Soul, psyche, personality – call it what you will, deep down our emotionality is the ever-updating code in each of our ROM drives. A million lines of code each with a million characters – a million times a million translates into a lot of different ways to react to exactly the same thing, be it the imminent threat of an impending thumbs down at a looming election or the sun on your back. In a pre-digital world it might be what Immanuel Kant had in mind when he wrote “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made”.

The Clearing – Dan Hope

The Clearing – Dan Hope

Unscramble, if you can, the emotional omelette that is the power plant of Dan Hope’s The Clearing. It basically can’t be done and that’s because Hope has whisked so many lines of the code together so thoroughly and then added plenty of seasoning to boot. We all know a real life person like the lead character Bill the Dad. If we’ve never had to live with him, we’ve mostly evaluated him via the prism of the persona he simply can’t restrain himself from presenting. But – like everybody – there’s complexity, nuance and even (apparent) contradiction in him…. just as there is in each of us.

The detail and set design in The Clearing is simply astounding. And it’s perfectly captured in what stands as a masterclass in cinematography. The world created here is immersive, so textural you feel you could almost reach in and touch it. It’s perfectly proportioned and so ‘real’ you are rapidly transported into it and quickly become a believer. Even if there is a twinge of guilt lapping at the shores of your judgement bay and a residue of resigned pity for Bill’s family, your swift descent into the world so vividly portrayed in The Clearing has you judging Bill almost against your will. None of us want to be defined by our most annoying feature or our most visible weakness. Extracting this out of some puppets, fuzzy cloth and paint is ….well, you can finish this sentence when you’ve seen the film.

Flip the medium, it is a swift gear change to the second film in the programme, we are in a hurry to cover the bases. How To Lose Everything: A Field Guide buries nothing and wears every fibre of its emotional message on its sleeves. When the very real losses in Christa Couture’s world started piling up against the walls of her inner world, she responded by recording her responses visually in books, drawings and paintings. Teaming up with co-director Bekky O’Neil they have somehow translated these images borne of grief and damage through a sieve of hope to create the raw material with which to build a new foundation. It helps that this is a beautifully realised film to take in and it helps doubly that the script narrates above the waves of an ocean that a different guide might have elected to sink beneath.

Keeping it personal, what you take from (or make of) Yoriko Mizushiri’s new film Anxious Body might have as much to do with your own life experiences as it does with what you recognise within its artfully visualised narrative roll. Mizushiri speaks here quietly, but defiantly, without words. She is a visually driven animator, normally basing her films on a singular image that has emerged in her mind and won’t leave until it can be let loose within a film. In the case of Anxious Body it was nothing more complex than the cutting of tape, an idea which grew into the understated fixation that gets the film rolling.

“It’s not a special action in itself,” she said at the Ottawa International Animation Festival earlier this year when introducing this apparently very simple inspiration. “But I wanted to really convey that feeling of weight and of the actual cutting of the tape and how that connects to the next movement in the film.

“It’s about enlarging on that feeling.”

This is a deliberately and determinedly 2D film. There is no depth of field or texture to add to its cartography. This sense of ‘weight’ and the variety of ways it is applied might be the best rope to hang on to as you transverse it. It’s a force that is as powerful as it is fragile. Perhaps that is why it took out the prize for ‘Best Non-Narrative Film’ at Ottawa this year. The jury summed it up well:

“Without visual texture, the film touches our bodies through its visceral fusion of the subconscious, unconscious, and conscious states of the mind and body.”

This combination of uncertain questing, voyaging around rather than heading straight through the less charted reefs of emotional fragments and the mustering of a kind of hazy collage of inexact reactions define many of the films that populate this year’s ‘Playing With Emotion’ programme. Louis’s Shoes, for example, adeptly explores those glossy minefields so many of us found ourselves dropped into, often without recourse to explanation, maps or back-up, as children.

And our good friends at Papy3D have delivered yet another masterpiece in the making with What Resonates In Silence by Marine Blin, the genesis of which is grounded in, and initially driven by, writing rather than the harnessing of any given visual image as an inspirational stepping off point. Blin took a creative writing class whilst she was still studying at ESMA in France and found that as the words flowed a new world began to form before her. As this ‘new’ reality gathered its unique mass, she realised that to “nourish the project” some level of almost documentary research into the profession of her protagonist would be needed.

“I thought it would trigger something in me and my writing,” she said in a ‘Voices of French Animation’ presentation at Annecy.

Research, podcasts and accounts of people who had had similar experiences to those being depicted in the film all added layers to the story but it was a chance meeting with a professional embalmer that pushed her budding script through the looking glass.

“He gifted me his account of the first time he prepared a body,” Blin recalls. “He told me what it triggered in him. It was beautiful because I saw the parallels between his story and the things I’d sensed in my script and in the way I wanted to tell the story.”

This sense of respectful intimacy entirely permeates every frame of the film and with Blin’s exquisite artwork and flowing animation makes What Resonates In Silence a wrap-around experience.

But the film that interrogates one of our most primal and commonly held emotions – fear – is saved for the closing moment of the programme. Black Slide by Uri Lotan runs fast and uses its momentum to tow along a number of interwoven threads. Bright and colourful, it looks great straight out of the box. Lo-fi juvenile mischief, even with the odd cut and scratch, isn’t an uncommon way for young boys to pass time without ultimately pushing too many boundaries too close to the cliff edge. Throw in a few strange time tweaks and some slightly porous hints of trouble at home and the gaze starts to narrow just a little.

The real genius on display here, though, is the almost invisible slow-burn build-up of tension which is masterfully plotted and the four (maybe five) dimensional prism through which that tension releases – while leaving open a cluster of resolutions to debate on the way out of the cinema.

Assembling screening orders is one of the low-vis artforms that makes up the task of short film curation. Sometimes these perfect closing films simply arrive with their credentials on display.

Malcolm Turner – LIAF Co-Director