The latest survey of under-the-radar animated shorts currently travelling the festival circuit or new to online viewing.
In this month's Binocular Briefs, we look at a new set of films that explore themes of independence, family, beauty, sexuality, co-dependence, aimlessness, and a wild musical ride on the Montreal metro system.
Sewing Love, Yuan Xu, Japan, 2023
A man and a woman meet. They instantly - and literally - meld together. It’s a glorious, colorful, and orgasmic existence. Swirling together in harmony, nothing can disturb this perfect union until one of them starts to drift. What was once a bubbly, heavenly kaleidoscope quickly turns into a dark tale of obsession and desperation.
This visually explosive student film displays a level of maturity and insight beyond its years. The flawless shift between upbeat psychedelic designs and fragmented nightmare imagery is perfectly accompanied by a schizoid soundtrack that travels from soothing Stevie Wonderesque funk to an abrasive, annoying, and chaotic mess that feels like it was snatched from an industrial accident.
Doom Cruise, Hannah Stragholz and Simon Steinhorst, Germany, 2021
A cruise ship drifts through a rapidly vanishing landscape. Passengers are disappearing. The end of all is seemingly near, and there’s nothing to be done about it.
If it all sounds familiar, it’s because... well, isn't that how many of us are really right now... meandering through a world that seems intent on disappearing as violently, stupidly, and rapidly as possible?
The use of a cruise ship is a nice touch given the awfulness of those earth-destroying floating shopping malls; it also serves as an apt mirror of an isolated and disconnected society, you know, like the one we occupy behind our endless screens and shadows.
If there is hope, it seems to come via children, which feels a bit naive, but when you don’t have any answers, you have to find some hope somewhere, however blind.
Graphically, the fluid, sketchy design is composed of an almost neon pastel look tinged with bits of black and white. The hazy, languid pacing adds to the uncertainty and dreamy waviness of the journey. The mysterious and dream-like aura feels as if we’re seeing the unfolding tragedy through the eyes or minds of a confused child.
Global affairs aside, Doom Cruise also asks just what we do when we know the end is near and it’s time to say goodbye. How does one make their final exit?
The Girl with The Red Beret, Janet Perlman, Canada, 2023
Okay, so at first, I was hesitant. A lighthearted and campy journey of a young woman in a red beret travelling the often-strange realm of the Montreal metro (subway) system... but damn, I was sucked in. Probably because so many films right now are so bloody, dark, and dystopian. Even a jaded fella like me couldn’t NOT hum along to the enticing sounds of Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s song, “Complainte pour Ste-Catherine.”
The film is filled with slapstick humor (notably the absurd scenarios involving a clown, sofa, horses, and police) and many Canadian/Montreal references (if you look closely, you’ll spot Leonard Cohen, William Shatner, and Maurice “Rocket” Richard).
Deep meaning? Bah, we don’t need to analyze everything. It's best if you just seek this film out in a cinema with an audience and let it take you over, because it will transform your anxiety-dripping soul - even if only momentarily - into a joyous singing fool.
The Bitch, Carla Melo Gampert, France/Colombia, 2023
Ah, the age-old story of suffocating parents and rebellious children. A young bird in Bogota lives with her overbearing mother and loyal dog. Torn between desperately needing her often sexually distracted single mother and loathing her overprotective outbursts, the young bird heads out into the world to explore her own sexual path. What she finds is confusing, exhilarating, and alienating.
Raw, sensual, and heartbreaking, this beautifully drawn ink-on-paper work explores themes of unharnessed sexual desire and the complexity of parent-child dynamics. But this isn’t just a standard coming-of-age or young rebellion story; The Bitch (a title that could be applied to any of the characters, including the dog) also touches upon the challenges of women in a male-dominated society where catcalls and objectification are still a thing.
Be careful what you wish for.
And The Cranes Kept Dancing, Natasza Cetner, Poland/Saudi Arabia, 2023
Continuing with the theme of birds and human relationships, a feckless and fatigued man has grown distant from his wife and son. He absently drifts through each day, unable to connect emotionally with his family. One day, he dips his foot into the sea as dancing cranes suddenly appear on the shoreline and surround him. He loses himself wholly in the beauty of their movements.
A haunting and unsettling paint-on-glass story about alternative realities, about the difficult choices and inevitable doubts we make within a limited lifetime.
Is it really a choice between responsibility and duties or beauty and freedom? Why do we make things so difficult? Why must it always be either/or?
I’ll leave that to you to sort through.
Lizuna Fair, Sumito Sakakibara, Japan, 2022
(Online through December 15, 2023)
A camera pans slowly left past what appears to be a forest seen through the windows of a home where a woman sits, a child plays, and a man stands as his blurred head shifts and shakes in a state of obvious chaos. Meanwhile, a ghostly red figure repeatedly climbs the stairs of the house, passing by the distracted family members. As the camera continues to pan, another wall reveals a black and white scene of a man wandering. The camera continues to pan outside towards other scenes.
Cryptic and haunting, Lizuna Fair seems to capture a moment in a man’s life when regrets and failures clash and collide in his troubled mind. I can’t tell with any certainty what the film is really about, but it strikes me as a rather sad piece about not living the life you thought you wanted and only realizing that after the fact. Do we see images of a life unlived? A man whose car has crashed (we see a passing image of a man looking on in horror at his overturned vehicle) and perhaps taken the lives of loved ones? A past that wasn’t? A lonely man unable to connect meaningfully with himself, let alone the world around him.
Whatever your interpretation, Lizuna Fair is a beautifully calm and hypnotic piece of visual poetry about a life in disarray. With so many animation films (commercial and indie) always seeming to be in a hurry to nowhere, it’s refreshing to experience a languid and meditative work that offers no clear answers, just scattered moments and passing emotions.