Tag Archives: Doll

LIST CANDIDATE: ALMA (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Rodrigo Blaas

PLOT: Young Alma encounters a toy shop containing a doll bearing an uncanny resemblance to her.

Still from Alma (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: In communicating its tale of terror in a style and medium almost uniformly associated with mainstream family-friendliness, Alma stands out as weird amidst today’s persistent stream of digital animation.

COMMENTS: As this site’s regular Saturday Short feature has proven, animation is one of the most fitting mediums for short-length cinematic weirdness. Whether minimalist or elaborate, animation offers a strong opportunity to evoke a particularly singular visual concept within a short frame of time.

Former Pixar employee Rodrigo Blaas—whose name appears in the credits of some of the studio’s most beloved features—has, with Alma, added his own particular twist to this well-established cinematic convention. Drawing on his past work, Blaas bring us his simple, independent tale of surreal horror in the bright, stylized CGI that’s now all but synonymous with modern mainstream animation.

In its themes and narrative, meanwhile, Alma recalls a more antiquated form of family entertainment. Its components—the snow upon slanted rooftops and narrow cobblestone alleys; the toy shop, at once quaint and sinister; the protagonist, a mischievous little one with the air of a vagabond—bring to mind the classical elements of old children’s’ books. The plotline, which imposes a nightmarish fate upon its young protagonist as punishment for a petty misdeed, evokes the Victorian cautionary tales that Hilare Belloc so famously lampooned.

Needless to say, this results in a strikingly unique piece of short cinema; especially considering that, despite mashing together conventions of children’s entertainment from opposite ends of the 20th century, it is very clearly not intended for children. The simple plot follows young Alma, who, prancing merrily down a snowy alleyway one day, encounters a toy shop, with a doll precisely resembling her in the window. Unable to resist this singular temptation, she heads into the unattended shop to take the doll for herself, and meets horrifying consequences—ones that add a twist to the primal fear of endless damnation.

Told, like many short works of weirdness, entirely without dialogue, the story of Alma is, as befitting the nature of Blaas’ past work, communicated via five minutes’ worth of highly expressive visuals that quietly convey basic narrative and subtle details alike. Alma’s slightly ragged appearance hints at her humble background, lending context to her sticky-fingered nature. Hundreds of children have chalked their names on the wall in the alleyway in which she finds the shop. It’s also lined with what might be interpreted as a number of “Missing” posters, ominously hinting at the shop’s scourge of terror. And the store window, picturesque upon first glance, takes on the appearance of a leering monster’s gaping maw when examined more closely.

In terms of weirdness, Alma has its more obvious elements: most notably, flashes of surreal, nightmarish images when Alma seizes the doll. The genuine uniqueness of the short, however, is found in its bold effort to render an artistically-driven work of cinema in a style that’s become emblematic of mega-budget commercial family cinema. The contrast is striking. As an artistic choice, it’s not unprecedented, but Blaas, having come directly off the set of some of the industry’s leading titles, evokes the style with particular authenticity.

Development is currently underway for a Dreamworks-backed feature-length adaptation of the short. As many have already predicted, even with Blaas himself at the helm, it seems highly likely that this horrifying tale, effective chiefly for its simplicity, will lose more than a little of its punch when stretched into feature-length. If nothing else, however, said feature might draw a little more much-deserved attention to the original short.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is a fairytale of the old kind, and if you have any sensitivity at all, you’ll be shivering as the snow drifts down at the end.”–Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

Alma from Rodrigo Blaas on Vimeo.

103. BLOOD TEA AND RED STRING (2006)

“The doll character had been working its way into my drawings since 1990.  A lot of these things evolved from drawings.  The drawing is coming from the subconscious, really, so you don’t really know why, or say ‘why am I drawing it’?”–Christiane Cegavske on the DVD commentary to Blood Tea and Red String

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Christiane Cegavske

FEATURING: With one minor exception, all characters are silent animated puppets

PLOT:  A group of aristocratic white mice commission rodentlike creatures with beaks (called the “Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak”) to create a doll for them, but once the puppet is fashioned the Creatures refuse to give it up; instead, they revere it and sew an egg they find floating in a creek inside its torso.  The mice steal the doll and take it to their lair, so the Creatures set out on a journey to recover it.  Along the way they meet a frog sorcerer and a spider with a human face, and everything changes when the egg inside the doll hatches.

Still from Blood Tea and Red String (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film took 13 years to make, with Cegavske animating perhaps 10 seconds a day.  Many of the models and effects used show up in the director’s 1992 short Blood and Sunflowers.
  • Cegavske intends for Blood Tea and Red String to be part of a trilogy, and in 2011 she announced the second part of the project, titled Seed in the Sand.  She estimates this installment will take five years to complete.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Blood Tea is bizarre throughout, and many will be attracted to the psychedelic splashiness of the sequence where the Oak Dwellers eat hallucinogenic berries and see morphing pink and green leaf patterns overlaid on the courtyard garden.  For my money, though, things are at the weirdest when we climb inside the dark mouse hole and watch the well-dressed vermin pour bloody tea onto the lips of the lifeless doll while their skull-headed pet raven looks on.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A dialogue-free stop-motion animated fable done in the style of Jan


Original trailer for Blood Tea and Red String

Svankmajer, but with a darkly feminine spin, Blood Tea and Red String gently folds surrealism into its fairy tale structure to create a weirdly compelling world.  It’s an inverted Alice, told from the perspective of mutant rodents, depraved white mice, and mystical frogs.

COMMENTS:  Artist Christiane Cegavske had been living with the haunting creatures of Blood Continue reading 103. BLOOD TEA AND RED STRING (2006)