FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020: GILES WATCHES CARTOONS

“Circo Animato” 2020 program

Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

For a well-deserved break from reality, instead I spent my Sunday morning enjoying thirteen cartoon shorts from around the world.

“The Spinning Top” – dir. by Shiva Momtahen

An ornately told tale from Iran about an enthusiastic child who ends up trading his ability to sing and shout for a spinning top. The animation is distinctly non-Western, and beautiful. The little boy in question travels within an  ever-shifting frame of stylized flowers as he encounters the quilt man, pool man, and the salt man. The up tempo feel is brought down to earth when the salt man takes away the boy’s youthful vigor, leaving only the memories within the top.

“Kkum” – dir. by Kim Kang-min

This is the only foam-imation I’ve ever seen, and accompanying the weird look achieved by animating its weird narrative about a young man who is protected by his mother’s dreams with polystyrene. Four dreams in particular–“Fire,” “Insect,” “Pumpkin,” and “Corpse”–are highlighted, each heavily symbolic and lovingly rendered in Styrofoam. The short ends with the mother advising her son (grown, with wife and child) not to go out that day; the grateful lad thanks the heavens for the meticulous fence his mother has constructed around him.

“There Were Four of Us” – dir. by Cassie Shao

By a whisker, this was the strangest short of the crop—both to listen to, and to look at. The sound is purposely muted, as if one is listening to the dialogue (actually, mostly monologues) through a telephone propped against an old tape recorder. The visual element, however, practically shouts from the screen. What is going on here? There are too many clues, too many things going on, to be certain; the final shot suggests a hospital. And the garbled vocal exposition suggests a mental one, at that. Simultaneously vibrant and creepy.

“Thin Blue Variety Show” – dir. by Gretta Wilson

Gretta Wilson’s searing indictment of police violence against black citizens manages somehow to also be the funniest in this year’s showcase. Using empty, doll-sized costumes of popular police/lawmen from film and television (including Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon, Miami Vice, and Magnum, P.I.), a series of rules about “the thin blue line” are posited at an increasingly frenzied pace and a decreasing adherence to the ideals of actual rule of law. I wish more socially conscientious filmmaking could be this clever.

“Genius Loci” – dir. by Adrien Mérigeau

Beautifully animated, but considerably marred by a slightly-too-loose narrative and a concurrent lack of stylistic coherency. The neat-o moments of Genius Loci were truly neat-o: newspapers morphing into frolicking dogs, a majestically jagged cathedral with stained-glass, and a pleasingly cryptic sideways diamond recurring throughout. However, the difficulty I had following this exploration of loneliness (something I only learned from the Fantasia description) undercuts what otherwise could have been a tip-top ‘toon.

“Reflexion” – dir. by Alan Bidard

This musing on social distancing in these times of pandemic gets points for topicality, but otherwise only wins “most maudlin”, “most straightforward”, and “most use of blue coloring” awards. Two separated souls are having a moment of crisis in their long-distance relationship, but may just hopefully work it out. I could not quite summon the will to care.

“Inside Blue” – dir. by Chen Yi-Chien

Deeply ingrained fear and paranoia from the sunny shores of Taiwan. Without words, and with barely any sound to speak of, Inside Blue demonstrates, perhaps, the considerable degree of neurosis that sufferers of obsessive compulsive disorder may endure. A trip to the bathroom becomes anything but simple as the poor man tries to maintain order—by surrounding all points of interactivity with blue tape. What is he protecting himself from? This film is not at all overtly political, but considering the long-standing intentions of the rather big country neighboring Taiwan, I can imagine that any semblance of control is to be cherished for the sake of autonomy—but comes with the serious risk of debilitating obsession.

“Seoulsori” – dir. by Kim Kyoung-bae

Second-weirdest, barely, and this movie maybe only didn’t win out because I felt it was too in-comprehensible to even try to wrap my brain around it. If that sounds like a criticism, it isn’t: this was a wonderful display of clashing colors and menace-cum-giddiness. (For some reason, I flashed back to a childhood memory of watching the “Heffalumps & Woozles” bit of a Winnie the Pooh cartoon as a child.) Whatever is going, it involves a painting of palanquin in a procession. Its museum-bound observer observes wistfully—until he finds himself surrounded by the marching revelers. Highly unclear, highly recommended.

“The Weather is Lovely” – dir. by Lien Chun-Chien

Cutesy yawn-fest that would have been better enjoyed by any of my four niblings. Some clever cloud-based visuals in this one, but paint me “totally unsurprised” that a Chinese submission would not have anything particularly interesting to say about anything.

“Peace and Love” – dir. by Etienne Faivre

My French is not what it should be after having studied it from second grade in elementary school through my junior year of college. The distributors of Peace and Love rubbed this deficiency in my face by not providing subtitles. The story was simple enough to piece together after the fact, and probably would have been very amusing were I fully aware of what was going on during a fishing trip that becomes a hostile encounter with pirates seeking “peace”, after which a man becomes a fish, and then… Well, those of you fluent in the language, and who are also able to find this film, will probably like it. It certainly looked pretty neat.

“Florigami” – dir. by Iva Ciric

It is reassuring that a film with such obvious symbolism (white flower growing amidst hostile surrounding plants) was a Serbian-Croation co-production. For those of you not quite brushed up on recent Balkan history, there is still considerable bad blood between the nations. Florigami was nice to look at, and conveyed the idea of “hope” and “peace” rather deftly; but there is little more to say other than, good luck to you.

“Wade” – dir. by Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, Kalp Sanghvi

Ugh, I am glad this was only eleven minutes because it was often brutal and always filled with despair. Set at some point in the future after sea levels have risen to waist-high in the coastal city of Kolkata, Wade‘s title comes from the new way everyone has to travel. Everyone in this city is starving and sickly and still being manipulated (various posters and signs add considerable weight to the already disheartening imagery: “Climate Change is a lie! A/C install!”, “Save Kolkata from ‘climate change’ refugees”). The story involves a small group of survivors out in the (water covered) thoroughfare who are set upon by tigers, one of whom can walk on water. There is beauty in this vision, but not much. Just ask the woman whose baby was drowned because it began crying when the survivors were attempting to hide.

“The Grave of Saint Oran” – dir. by Jim Batt

Neil Gaiman dusts off his writin’ pen and clears his throat to read aloud his semi-poetical tale of Saint Oran, an unlucky fellow who was (nearly) killed and buried (alive) because his friend (and brother?) Saint Columba saw in a vision that Oran’s body must be buried in the foundation of the new chapel they were building on the Island of Iona (in the Inner Hebrides). The fusion of “paper-doll”-style animation with the more traditional sort makes for a timeless feel of this ancient tale of early Christian Scotland, and Mr. Gaiman is in good voice (and spirits). So much so that at this cartoon’s end I found myself really wanting to visit the place.

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