Hello, Or What's Love Got To Do With It

in 28th Annecy International Animated Film Festival

by Leonardo D'Esposito

The FIPRESCI Award in Annecy went to a witty, melancholic, and clever short subject, “Hello”, by Jonathan Nix.

The problem with animation is mostly to find out why a specific technique is chosen to tell the story. In this case, the ink and paper design remind us of the frailty of any love story, and the deliberate instability of the images is a substantial part of the script. Even the use of computer graphics to design the main credits (a general view of a town at night with large buildings and an appearance at once lunar and inhuman) allows the viewer to identify with the main character, a young man, whose head is a tape recorder, and who’s in love with a young lady with a CD player head. It’s all about how to communicate, and especially how to communicate feelings without (or with very few) words . That could be a good definition for animation films.

The previous works of Nix are in the music video field, and we can say that if animation — as all cinema — is over–influenced by the music video language, Nix went the opposite way with his short: to translate the not-yet-so-codified language of the MTV video on a classic-mood animation. But this is not his biggest achievement. Everything on the screen tells the viewer a little more about social behaviors than the script itself: the girl is more “modern” because she is a CD Player – and, of course, a little younger than the main character; the wise old man that helps the younger man is represented by an old Victrola – and he’s a Zen master, too, as an homage to/satire of the relationship between recent occidental cinema and influential Asian films. It’s that combination that makes the film unique in a certain way.

On the other hand, this is a traditional love story. But here is where we must talk about the specificity of animation. Since through animation it’s possible to show anything, the script does not always need much time to tell a tale, because all the information can — even must — be onscreen. And the less we see, the less is needed to be said. That’s precisely where “Hello” succeeds: in the way animation is used to tell the story, and at exactly the right time. It is, of course, a boy-meets-girl situation, with a witty twist, but it’s also a metaphor for urban life, and of the vain way in which we try to express our feelings and our needs to others, in a very codified world. Music, Nix tells us, could be the only way. But not any music (Nix has also composed the soundtrack).

Maybe we must thank the cinema for showing us how music is directly connected to our memories and emotions. In a way, the cinematic experience teaches us how to add a soundtrack to our lives, and experience tells us that the right music matches the right moment. Two very different films — “On connaît la chanson”, by Alain Resnais, and “High Fidelity”, by Stephen Frears — have already put this onscreen. “Hello” is based on the same principle: the right attitude isn’t enough (during most of the film, we think the main character’s biggest problem is his shy personality) ; you’ve got to set it to the right music. It’s a way of showing that art is an integral part of our lives, and influences us in all our deeds; and also how pop culture can model our behavior in certain circumstances (for instance, the “hello” of the title comes from Lionel Ritchie’s kitsch eighties classic… and it’s the only part of the tube you can hear in the film). And there are some cultural artifacts that become as timeless as a boy-meets-girl situation, as love itself.

Nix tell it all in six minutes and a half, the same time Chuck Jones took to tell the story of a frog that didn’t wanted to sing in public, “One Froggy Evening”, ( 1955 ), or the rise and fall of a singing giraffe, “Nelly’s Folly” ( 1961 ) — that ‘s to say that music and animation, in the right hands, always say something smart about our not-so-animated world, with humor, a surrealistic but effective design, and a lot of intelligence. Definitely, a work of love.