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Keep it in Motion - Classic Animation Revisited: 'The Swallow'

Every Wednesday, Chris Robinson takes a look at short animation films. Today: Xi Chen's 'The Swallow' (2014)

For anyone who has travelled the animation festival circuit of late, you already know that China has been producing an assortment of innovative feature and short films fueled by imaginative designs and experimental concepts. One of those voices is Xi Chen (Grain Coupon, The Winter Solstice, The Poem), whose poetic, romantic visions combine silent film aesthetics with an occasional dash of Igor Kovalyov.

Chen’s 2014 short, The Swallow is a beautiful and modest old school portrait of three generations of Chinese women. The film is set in what might be a room of a larger house or just a small domestic space that the three women share. Without words – and apparently from the perspective of a passing swallow just outside the window - Chen nimbly captures the distances between the generations: the traditional grandmother vs the modern mother vs the abandoned granddaughter.

At times, the combination of black and white, old music, theatre and a jittery image convince you that you’re watching a film made in the 1930s. The unstable, wavy image makes it feel as though you’re watching the film in an impromptu ballroom theatre of a ship

With no words, minimal mise-en-scene (the film never moves from the centre of the main room, even when there is a point where the characters all leave ‘us’ alone in the room. It’s a wonderful moment in the film that creates suspense and bemusement), instead relying entirely on simple character gestures, Chen tells a tale of a troubled family - and with it, shifting attitudes in contemporary China.

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A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.