Annecy Under the Sun

in 28th Annecy International Animated Film Festival

by Nguyen Trong Binh

Ever been to Annecy? A beautiful French city in the Haute-Savoie region, on a gorgeous lake at the feet of the Alps, with an old medieval town built around canals, full of good restaurants where local wine and cheese can be happily savoured. This is also a place where cars stop to let pedestrians cross the street. And, for one week each June, Annecy becomes the world capital of animation cinema.

For years the Annecy Festival has been a major date for all lovers of animated films. One of its problems is to keep a fair balance between the artistic side of its selections and the demands of an ever-increasing commercial market (as shown by the success of the MIFA, the very busy film market that takes place during the Festival). Of course, the feature competition is the first one to suffer from the domination of mainstream blockbusters; although no big American commercial feature was presented, we were treated several European ersatzes, that in a way are even worse than their current Hollywood models: why bother with imitation sub-Disney since the real thing, in its own standardized field, remains unsurpassed? Therefore, let’s not be too lenient on “Toto Sapore And The Magic Story”, a noisy, obnoxious, atrociously colored Neapolitan tale, complete with large portions of screaming Pulcinellas and giggling pseudo-folklore, climaxing with the invention of the pizza (!), nor on the derivative retelling of the Spanish myth, “El Cid, The Legend”, with its hormone-fed body-built characters, hackneyed dialogue, politically correct apology for colonialism (in the English-speaking version, the main Arab goodie character has an American accent! Compared to that one, the Anthony Mann-directed Bronston version looks hyper-radical).

Daniel Robichaud’s Canadian sci-fi reworking of the evergreen Pinocchio story, “P3K Pinocchio 3000”, fares slightly better, crammed with good-looking yet déjà-vu 3D effects, but also with weak story turns, and unfunny comic relief. Better get back to Disney’s classic, or to Comencini’s great live action feature.

The two best features in competition were Korea’s sweet, pastel-colored “Oseam”, directed by Sung Baek-yeop, a gentle odyssey about the Buddhist initiation of two orphan siblings, full of poetic reincarnation imagery, and Bill Plympton’s latest sardonic satire, “Hair High”, a fine, nostalgic, at times riotously funny, but uneven, slice of collegiate Americana that takes us back to the rock-and-rolling 1950s (it was inspired by a dream the author experienced, about long-haired underwater corpses, possibly reminiscent of Charles Laughton’s “Night Of The Hunter”, a film that was amusingly quoted in Bruno Collet’s French short, “Calypso Is Like So”, a stop-motion fantasy about Robert Mitchum).

The Short Films competition, consisting in five lengthy programs, is, of course, a much more versatile and satisfying package . This is the oversized rendezvous of all techniques and stories, from all parts of the world. This was the kind of selection where we could appreciate a wonderfully imaginative Fantasia-like Disney short, Mike Gabriel’s “Lorenzo” (a cat being persecuted by its own rebellious tail), in the same program as a philosophical 3D Korean fable, simply titled “The Life” (directed by Kim Jun-ki), as well as Chris Landreth’s brilliant “animated documentary”, “Ryan”, and Jonathan Nix’s “Hello” (FIPRESCI winner, from Australia), a very imaginative, unpretentious, and effectively drawn love story about an audio-cassette player (boy), and a modern CD player (girl), under the kind tutelage of an old gramophone!

The School and Graduation Films competition brings out yet more questions about what a student film should be: as professionally slick as possible, or completely free and ground-breaking? All intermediates are possible, between these two extremes, making the programs the most mixed of all bunches ( aesthetically speaking ) — and the most uneven, in terms of content, with most young filmmakers thanking their parents, or even grandparents, in the end credits. It varied from simple stories, well-told and characterized, such as “A Slippery Tale” (Pantoffelhelden, directed by Suzanne Seidel, from Germany — it deals with a frog falling for a slipper!), to more abstract, underground exercises, such as Jeanne Paturle’s “Eyes Shut” (Les yeux fermés, France), about recollections of an African bike-ride by blind travelers !

Nothing much can be said of the almost-newborn Internet Films competition, except for their poor ideas and cheap realization; the Commissioned Films selection sometimes had more apparent production values, but, generally speaking, even less good ideas. The TV Programs Competition consisted mainly of episodes from cute series for kids, with as much graphic invention as the big networks can allow (and pay for); the best ones (“Zoe Kezako”, from France, or “Jacob Two-Two”, from Canada) provided a few good laughs, though.

The retrospectives ranked from the spectacularly good (a Ray Harryhausen homage, in his presence; a tribute to Korea), to the dismal (“Ub Iwerks” in video, badly framed; a one-shot program from Taiwan, in the stuffy , off-center Lamy Theater). A few exhibitions were added, one dedicated to Jacques-Remy Girerd’s “Raining Cats And Frogs” (La prophétie des grenouilles), another to the origami wonders of Virgil Widrich’s multi-awarded “Fast Film”, a dizzying tribute to movie classics , featuring the fading images of Bogart, Bacall, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, et al., animated in a nostalgic race against time.