Invention and Innovation in Animation

in 39th Annecy International Animation Film Festival

by Gérard Lenne

The 39th FIFA (Festival international du film d’animation, set in Annecy, France) offered in competition 5 programs of short movies (43 films in total) and a sixth one called “off limits”, dedicated more specifically to exprimental and avant-garde works.

Let’s set this to one side, because invention and innnovation are supposed to be the rules and purpose, though it’s sometimes very difficult not to see lots of repetition there. Young festival goers may applause when they see lines of light and shadow going up and down on the screen, accompanied by very sharp stridences, endangering their retinas and ear drums, the elder ones may remember already seeing and hearing that stuff in the sixties and the seventies, during festivals like Hyères, Toulon ou Knokke-le-Zoute. Nothing new, formally speaking, in these sterile studies, and that’s why they’re relegated to such a ghetto as “off limits”.

Novelty can be attractive if easy to obtain for everybody. Mainstream needs a great deal of originality to renew and be born again. Animated cinema gives rise to this opportunity, because it makes everything possible, even more so than special effects in ‘ordinary’ cinema. It would be too bad not to take advantage of this luck.

According to this point of view, Teeth, ashort film by Daniel Gray and Tom Brown (US, Hungary, UK) was a truly overwhelming sensation. The drawing style, deliberately unusual, immediately gives a rare strength to this anatomy of a pathology driven to a painting of horror. The progress of anguish involves the control of time. For the story, Teeth makes us think of the surgical tools in Dead Ringers by David Cronenberg. For fantasy, we think of the thirty-two pearls which are snatched teeth in Berenice, that terrifying tale by Edgar Allan Poe. And for aesthetics, of the tumid flesh in the paintings of Francis Bacon…

Of course, and that’s not an effect of chance, fantasy is above all the field of animation.

The astounding Splintertime by Rosto Rosto (Netherlands, France, Belgium) leads us in a nightmare world with no smile expected, where as the monstrosity of The Night of the Naporitano by Sukuke Sakamato (Japan) has a funny parodic dimension.

Sometimes, classicism in animation appears like a guarantee that nothing could distract us from the cruelty of the tale – that’s what happens with The Master (Isand, by Riho Unt, Estonia), a mismatched confrontation between a dog and a chimpanzee. Sometimes, a brilliant formal creativity is the key for a philosophical reflection not missing deepness (Rhizome, by Boris Labbé, France), or a political metaphor approaching surreal inspiration, through a screen divided into nine zones (Goodbye Utopia, by Ding Shiwei, China).

But sometimes, coming back to everyday life can be very disturbing too. Animation is definitely not the ground for naturalism. One of the best evidences was given this year by Tranche de campagne (by Hannah Letaïf, France-Belgium) where porkly creatures dressed like humans are chasing a naked young girl they called “animal” and kill her to eat her flesh…  And also Yùl et le Serpent (by Gabriel Harel, France), where fantasy and horror are suddenly rising in the middle of a daily scene of suburban life.

Of course, if you are afraid of these kinds of boldness and the bizarre, you can enjoy a kind, humanist apologue like We can’t live without cosmos (Mi ne mozhem shit bezkosmosa, by Konstantin Bronzit, Russia). After all, you have not to be ashamed to share that with the enthusiastic young audience in Annecy. On the condition that, besides, other artists could invent, discover, innovate… Everything is a matter of imagination.

Edited by Tara Judah