I would like to briefly analyse the short animated film that won this year’s Audience Award at Annecy International Animation Film Festival – one of the world’s largest festivals of animated film, with a long stretching back to 1960. More than 200 films were screened, and you might have expected the audience to vote, as is often the case, for a popular comedy located in the fictional world.
However, this year the audience chose the opposite, Peripheria by David Coquard-Dassault (also awarded the Prix André Martin) – a quasi-social documentary that requires deep thinking on the part of the viewer. This is a film about the demolition of modernist district of uptown blocks (in wider shots looking like the district which Le Corbusieur wanted to build in the centre of Paris) which became a district slum. And we must note that the social and political situation affect the decisions of the festival audience. Slums and social exclusion are two of the most serious problems of the contemporary world, and some of the biggest issue struggles France today. Importantly, Peripheria is one of the many films selected this year by Annecy, relating political and social problems of the contemporary world (another was How long, Not Long by Michelle Kranot and Uri Kranot, honoured by the FIPRESCI Prize).
Those kinds of films often are ones that critics have a problem with. Using the strategy of documentary matter in an animated short film rarely leads to the creation of a masterpiece or even a good film. Those kind of films requires from its authors to create his own artistic form and language. However, that is not the case of Peripheria. At the beginning of the film, the creators use a formula known very well to the audience – the language of a catastrophic sci-fi movie. The viewer sees the world after some disaster. Atomic bomb? Aliens? Feels safe, because this is fiction, as far as possible from reality. After a few minutes of the film (the running time is 12 minutes and 20 seconds), the viewer realises the film is not fiction, especially not sci-fi. It is a film built on the strategies of documentary, very current, and – unfortunately – provoking us to imagine an inevitable future.
In the film we have only the necessary elements and components, there is nothing unnecessary – no dialogue and colours, decorations are similar to architectural visualisation projects. Its only (visible) characters are dogs – the same black purebred dogs. The action takes place in the huge district of the modernist uptown block, abandoned and deprived of its functions, condemned to demolition. This deadness is a picture of the collapse of the modernist project of the 70s, the project of social and cultural assimilation of immigrants and the lower social classes.
However, degradation of the district did not take place after people left it, but during the time its tenants lived there. There were people living in the economic exclusion, usually permanently unemployed – it is they who are the invisible characters of Peripheria (part of the soundtrack are their voices – fights, quarrels, the sounds of children playing). Houses – so well designed – today are reused by the dogs. But it is not a horde of mongrels, this post-apocalyptic community makes huge impression – mostly visual – a civilisation to organise (their barking, shown as communication can be considered a kind of dialogue). The appearance of the purebred dogs’ civilisation inside the degenerate modern human culture is the strongest, post-human power of Peripheria.
We can also consider this film as a painful continuation of the cult French film Banlieue 13 (District 13) concerning the problem of demolition of the Paris “periphery”, which in 2004 could still be produced as a comedy, sci-fi political fiction – today that would not be possible.
Where now are the tenants of this degenerated district of Peripheria? I’m afraid to ask.
Edited by Amber Wilkinson
© FIPRESCI 2016