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“Circo Animato” 2021 program

Beating the heat by escaping into a world of colors, lines, and pixels. Join me on a trip through a dozen+ animated what-have-yous…

“Ourobouros” – dir. by Chloé Forestier

A viscous, translucent purple ooze is covering clouds, buildings, and people. Is there a way to escape it? Watch as friends and family succumb to absorption, with a dedicated few slicing, shaking, and pulling themselves and others from a mysterious and ominous fate. Forestier’s short film contrasts enticing pastel coloring with a dark ambient score to immediately create a sense of menace before it ends, just as immediately, on a (potentially) hopeful note.

“Wayback” – dir. by Carlos Salgado

Mankind, as is so often the case, is doomed. The phrase “way back” suggests visiting the past, but also a means of escape to one’s home. Some very pretty, very angular animation is harnessed to convey a healthy smattering of details about the future: derelict buildings, sandy wastelands, and few survivors. Salgado’s vision also has hope, and even suggests a hyper-evolution of man à la 2001: A Space Odyssey. With the live-action heat wave surrounding me, I can only hope “Wayback” imagines a way forward.

“Enochia” – dir. by Noémie Bevierre

This was a noodle-scratcher, which is not a bad thing, necessarily; but its lack of clarity was marred by a couple of slices of conventional narrative, which set the whole thing up as appearing like a plot synopsis/introduction for some more conventional “tribes at war” cartoon saga. In the afterlife world, I was quite pleased to see the Circo Animato program’s continued trend of animations that fully embrace the medium. Then things got… “Too real” is too strong a phrase; but perhaps “less unreal”? Little quibbles, definitely, and the thing was visually striking (as all of these are). The least compelling of the bunch, but that is hardly a knock.

“Upcycling” – dir. by various

One cup, four minutes, six animators. A whimsical adventure about the importance of recycling and reuse. Passable entertainment, and skilled (whimsical) animation, but it was akin to watching a public service announcement that went strangely into left field.

“Hakkori” – dir. by Aya Yamasaki, Jason Brown

Don’t you just think it’s the worst when the awkward, clumsy mountain spirit drops the dumpling and releases a clutch of new mountain spirits into the world? I used to think that way, until “Hakkori.” Brown and Yamasaki’s wordless combination of real-life mountain forest and cartoon ancient spirits starts out as “d’aww, cute!” and grows into silent comedy before a brief psychedelic explosion re-engineers the local supernatural milieu. A roto-scopic cream-puff dancer is the icing on this odd little cake that explores the cyclicality of a world beyond our perception.

Hakkori Trailer from Opertura on Vimeo.

“Pimple on the Nose” – dir. by Davide di Saro

Every frame would make a spectacular black-light poster, and the song morphs seamlessly from a Rocky Horror Picture Show-style pop tune into a flowing jazz-club number into a guttural-breathy space prog jam, all the while keeping the focus on the titular blemish. Yep, this is one of those cartoons that once you’ve seen it, you know you won’t see anything like it again.

“Girl in the Water” – dir. by Shi-rou Huang

The country of origin may be excessively coloring my perspective here, but the fact that this is a Taiwanese animation elbows aside most other interpretations that might spring to mind. An island-shaped crack in the paint-work is getting white-washed over; a woman gently rubs at an island-shaped scab before it peels off; and a red-hulled boat infiltrates her hair as she sits nearly submerged in the water. Advocating reunification? Fearing it? The soft pencil animation is peaceful, but ominous. And just what is being whispered into her ear by a man who lies with her before leaving the frame?

“Ménage à Trois: Flour, Eggs, and Sugar” – dir. by C. M. Yun-jeong

A borderline serious “Classical Medlev Acapella” scores this yummy example of… bake-o-mation? Two minutes of morphing cookie imagery left me both impressed and hungry. Fear not, this is no pretentious visual meandering. A satisfying *crunch* caps this diversion, letting you know that any harm to the baked goods in the film occurred only after the project was complete.

“Le Sourire de la Courgette” – dir. by Lucas Ansart

If you’re going to hunt for livestock, be ruthless; if you want to get the most out of your cloud horses, feed them cucumber; and if you’re going to surprise your cat-man protector, don’t. There’s a little bit of Monsters, Inc. in here when it comes to a combination of cute and odd, with the moral conveyed a lot more quickly. (Albeit with less Billy Crystal and John Goodman.) To further intrigue you, I can imagine Gerald Scarfe having worked on this during his brief stint animating for children’s programming.

“Blink in the Desert” – dir. by Shinobu Soejima

[Live notes] “Gah! Why’d you kill that butterfly with a bucket? White elephant guy… why must stop-motion be so creepy sometimes… Soaring music, monk did something bad I guess. ‘Elephant of Regret’? Holy smoke, dialogue. This is a first. Unappetizing mush, impressive pulley-rig/well diorama. NO!!! Punk kid killed another butterfly with a bucket. This better turn into a Birds thing, or I’ve had it. Yeah, sure, kick the corpse with your foot… mysterious elephant. Even more mysterious cloak emergence of buttlerfly…eating the elephant’s fucking face!!! I think I want a ‘Tool’ video over this creepy allegory.  David Van Vleet strikes again. Reminds me, my sister was bitten by a butterfly once. Elephant keeping his calm, strange figures… weird figures… Embrace The Butterflies!!! No, I said ’embrace,’ not crush more with the bucket… Be sure to tell readers if they have lepidopterophobia to stay well away.” [Notes end]

“Megalomania” – dir. by Kim Eun-seo

Explaining everything going on in this would require a combined degree in mechanics, psychology, and art history. A young boy is in a hospital bed, surrounded by his drawings. He falls asleep gazing on them and enters a gear-and-staircase-filled world of his mind, with doodles and strange machines scattered throughout. He encounters a young girl. Who is she? And who is that bumble-bee robot? Is it the boy? Many more questions than answers; scratch that, no answers, at least not on the surface. Compelling nonetheless.

“Misery Loves Company” – dir. by Lee Sasha

If “black light” and “Dayglo™” can happen at the same time, that’s what’s happening in this one: a screed on suicidal inclination that almost veers into up-tempo singing. (If you disregard the lyrics; fox character wishes for a meteorite to smash into the earth because they’re depressed but too frightened to kill themselves.) Though the characters’ fate is uncertain, the director’s message is crystal clear: reach out to and stay connected with those you love.

[Trailer] Misery Loves Company from KIAFA[AniSEED] on Vimeo.

“Sunbelly” – dir. by Jordan Speer

5¢ for the earth-is-crumbling-wasteland motif, but $10 for the Heavy Metal spaceship animation (and another Hamilton for fusing that with Looney Tunes earth-side imagery). There’s a Benjamin coming your way for the dog-o-centric technology (sniffer space nose, ftw). You owe me fifty for crashing mid-view; though that isn’t Speer’s fault. Dogs around a glowing red crystal? All right, fine. (Is it just me, or does everyone have to hold back from playfully murmuring “vicious… Vicious!” whenever they pass a dog?) Stick around for the 2001: A Giant Candy Space-Blob psychedelic goo journey.

That’s all, folks!

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