The Evocative and Authorial Physique de la Tristesse

in 60th Annecy International Animation Film Festival

by Andrea Crozzoli

The Festival international du film d’animation d’Annecy is the offspring of the ancient Journées internationales du cinéma d’animation which came on to the scene in June 1960. In 1963 the festival became a biennial event until 1998 when it returned to annual form. In 2020, due to the fearsome pandemic coronavirus, the festival was held online. The event, which was forced to the virtual dimension in the name of social distancing, has certainly opened up new horizons and possibilities for festivals in general. If the sense of a festival event is to bring the public together with films and their makers, professionals and the press (last year over seven thousand people were accredited in the last two categories), using the web offers a chance to expand the potential audience and the visibility of the event.

However, the personal, home-made, experience, which is devoid of socialization, forces us to a sort of filmic onanism deprived of the pleasure of the big screen in the company of several hundred people. In this very particular period, the Annecy 2020 juries still worked hard, including the FIPRESCI jury, which was composed of Andrea Crozzoli from Italy, Naama Rak from Israel and Bernard Génin from France. We three were forced to do the desk work, in full solitude like the new Robinson Crusoe on the deserted island. In some ways, this was an alienating, solipsistic experience in front of a computer screen, exchanging judgments, impressions and feelings by email or with the filter of the various vocal applications which remain virtual and sanitized by social distancing.

Too bad, because in general the animated shorts of this 2020 edition were all very interesting and deserved the warmth of the applause in the cinema, the close encounter with the author, the handshakes and the sweet smell of tobacco at the cinema exit. They all dealt with ault issues: from memory to sexual identity, from alienation to the female condition and so on. If we think of animation as a simple cartoon style entertainment, we are dead wrong. Animated cinema is an adult cinema capable of fully narrating every aspect, even the most intimate, of life and the world. Clearly, alongside the content, as in any film, the technique and quality of the story, the editing, the music and in this case the drawing, also counts.

As a FIPRESCI jury, in an unprecedented Paris-Jerusalem-Pordenone triangulation, despite facing a selection of the highest quality, we immediately agreed after a quick round of emails and voice calls with WhatsApp, on the film to be awarded: the medium-length The Physics of Sorrow (Physique de la tristesse, 2019) by the Bulgarian/Canadian Theodore Ushev, a work where the author masterfully traces the memories of his youth in Bulgaria and his subsequent transfer to Canada. It is a labyrinthine film, seductive and enveloping in intensity and rhythm in which Ushev uses the novel Physique de la mélancolie by Guéorgui Gospodinov, one of the best known and loved Bulgarian writers, as a source of inspiration. The result is a work full of poignant melancholy describing the pains of growing up, combined with the sense of unease and uprooting in adulthood spent in Canada.

The evocative and authorial The Physics of Sorrow  with its wide breath and pictorial and fluid design, is the first film that Ushev made with a very ancient pictorial technique in which the colors are diluted with melted beeswax, obtaining a grain and a scale of particular nuances. In addition, Ushev used, as the narrative voice in the film, the extraordinary and inspired acting of Xavier Dolan (“enfant prodige” of the new Canadian cinema) which acts as the glue of the story.

Ushev was born in 1968 in Kyoustendil, Bulgaria, then moved to Montreal in 1999 where he made more than 10 films with the support of the National Film Board of Canada, winning over 150 awards and recognitions. I am sure we will hear much more off him.

Finally, among the many beautiful works present at this 2020 edition of the festival, was No, I Don’t Want to Dance!  (2019) by the Italian artist Andrea Vinciguerra. This is a short but intense stop motion film full of irony, rhythm and sarcasm. Divided into small episodes with perfect use of black humor No, I Don’t Want to Dance! shows us, in two and a half minutes, how much damage can be caused by dance. As Vinciguerra himself has sagaciously declared: “Following blindly the “movements” of others can lead to catastrophic consequences!”.

Andrea Crozzoli
Edited by Yael Shuv