Uncertain Times We Live In

in 61st Annecy International Animation Film Festival

by Davide Abbatescianni

It’s a wrap for the 45th edition of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, which unspooled from 14-19 June 2021. This year’s event took place in a hybrid form during a particularly delicate phase wherein we see the gradual reopening of cinemas and a cautious attempt to experience some kind of normality, inside and outside of the film industry. Most of the selected titles seemed to tackle, more or less explicitly, the zeitgeist of the uncertain times we live in. These films often explored the themes of decay, displacement, and turbulent human relationships, with occasional touches of surreal or dark humour along with a strong will to favour experimentation and mix genres. Aesthetically speaking, many titles boasted gloomy – at times even gruesome or disturbing – settings, colour palettes, shapes and mise-en-scene.

Our jury, composed by myself along with my esteemed colleagues Simone Soranna and Dija Mambu, was tasked to pick up the best short film out of 44 hopefuls. The 2021 FIPRESCI Prize went to a well deserving picture, namely Zacharias Kunuk’s The Shaman’s Apprentice (Angakuksajaujuq, 2021), produced by Iqualuit-based studio Taqqut Productions. This short film follows a young shaman forced to her first test: a trip underground to visit Kannaaluk, The One Below, who holds the secret behind the disease that mysteriously hit one of the community members. This beautifully crafted animated flick is  enriched by a solid narration, deeply rooted in the Canadian Inuit’s folklore and spirituality.

Another example of brilliant storytelling is Sandrine Stoianov and Jean-Charles Finck’s The World Within (Le Mond En Soi, 2020). The story centres on a young painter who is preparing for her first important exhibition. The woman, like many artists, commits so passionately to her work that she begins losing touch with reality and ends up trapped into a sort of hallucinatory chaos. In a clinic, she tries to recover, accompanied by the pleasant but elusive presence of a squirrel who visits her every day. The short staged by Caïmans Productions is a poetic, highly emotional reflection on how artists struggle while fighting their demons, bolstered by a compelling script and a masterly artistic execution.

Tackling a very sensitive topic, Marko Djeska’s effort All Those Sensations In My Belly (Sve te senzacije u mom trbuhu, 2020) manages to deliver, at least in part, Matia’s inner turmoil of transitioning from a male to a female gender as well as her attempts to start a genuine intimate relationship with a heterosexual man.

Described in the festival catalogue as a “bitter sweet romance” set at the heart of a dark forest “where two silhouettes meet, drawing each other together and pushing each other apart in an explosive nuptial parade,” Mélanie Robert-Tourneur’s Hold Me Tight (2021) is a highly powerful short, rich in symbols and metaphors that will elicit the viewers’ social imaginary.

Zuniel Kim and Christian Wittmoser’s The Train Driver (Der Lokführer, 2021) is an example of simple, but effective filmmaking. In just 5 minutes, this German short shows how the life of a train driver went on, after killing six people who decided to jump on the tracks throughout his career, and the soothing effect that fishing and the sea had on keeping him sane and cope with the tragic events he witnessed.

Finally, my last two festival highlights are Anton Dyakov’s Boxballet (2020) and Claude Cloutier’s Bad Seeds (Mauvaises herbes, 2020). The story of Boxballet presumably set a few years before the collapse of Soviet Union and follows the romantic encounter between Evgeny, a grumpy man of few words who works as a professional boxer, and Olya, a gentle ballerina. Meanwhile, Bad Seeds takes place in a bizarre universe populated by carnivorous plants that can change shapes while fighting against for survival. This short film rapidly develops into a curious tale about evolution and competition based on the ruthlessness of our dog-eat-dog society. While featuring two totally different settings and styles, both pictures share a nifty writing, humorous characters and an engaging narrative pace capable of keeping the viewers hooked.

Davide Abbatescianni
Edited by Pamela Jahn