Posts Tagged ‘animation’

The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, UK/Fr, 2010)

The One Line Review: Beautiful, elegiac paean to a bygone era and the inexorable loss that is fatherhood.

The Verdict: I have always loved Belleville Rendez-Vous, so I had been eagerly awaiting Chomet’s next project for some time. That means I held it up to high standards. It didn’t let me down. The Illusionist isn’t in the same vein as its predecessor, it isn’t surreal or exaggerated, this is pehaps the result of the source material; Jaques Tati, revered silent French comic wrote this script for himself, late on in his career. A tale about an entertainer left behind by the times and slowly fading into obscurity would have been a brave and poignant change of direction for the slapstick artist, but the script stayed on the shelf, either he, or more likely the money men, were too afraid of tainting his public image. It’s worked for Bill Murray though. Still, his loss means we gain the sumptuous animation of Chomet, drawn on location is Glasgow using British animators for the most part. This film is just lovely to look at, it’s like walking round a gallery of the best watercolours you can imagine for an hour and a half. It isn’t a criticism, but the film feels much longer than it’s slim eighty minute running time.

Running alomgside this visual ballad of a waning star, is the platonic love story of Tatischeff and Alice. She adopts him as a father figure and he gives everything to please her, to preserve her belief in magic. As she slowly outgrows him he goes to greater and greater lengths to keep her happy, while she obliviously takes it all for granted. It is a tragic representation of paternal love that we rarely see onscreen. It’s sad and it’s beautiful.

Brothers (Jim Sheridan, US, 2009)

The One Line Review: Portman brings her Oscar game a year before Black Swan drops in this fascinating and largely low key relationship drama exploring the redemptive power of grief.

The Verdict: Jim Sheridan, who made powerful immigrant drama In America, draws robust and nuanced performances from Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire. A tale of two halves, the first is concerned with Portman dealing with being widowed by the Iraq war, Gyllenhaal the black sheep finding redemption by looking after his brother’s family and Maguire not dead at all, slowly losing his humanity as a prisoner of islamist insurgents. The dichotomy between the gently evolving relationship at home, the burgeoning happiness, and the escalating horror and loss of humanity in the Middle East is stark and shocking. The depths Sam sinks to, in a hole in the Afgham desert, are truly horrifying.

The second half is where it all kicks off though. Sam comes home, broken and wracked with guilt to find the hole he left behind has been easily filled by the reprobate brother he was always favoured over. Tommy is forced out of the happy dynamic he and Grace have established with the children and Grace is torn between the man who was there for her at the worst time of her life and the violent, unpredictable shell of the man she once loved.

Brothers is all about what goes unsaid; feelings and suspicions and guilt and remorse all swirl around the wonderfully photogenic faces of the three leads, without the need to signpost every detail in exposition. I’ve yet to see the Swedish original, but it seems the Irish helmer has taken a leaf out the European’s filmmaking book, rather thanfollow the Hollywood tradition of heavyhanded remakes that miss the point.

WATERSHIP DOWN  (Martin Rosen, 1978. UK)

 Typically and perhaps misguidedly promoted as a children’s film, presumably because it’s an animation featuring rabbits; but that is where the Disney similarity ends. There is real darkness in this film, beyond the ‘mild peril’ of Pixar or the sad -but-not-shocking demise of Bambi’s ever-cited mother. You don’t even need to scratch the surface to reveal a seething pit of misogyny and deeply troubling gender politics. Arguably this is typical of the late seventies moral backlash against sixties’ liberation, (although that was more of an American trait) but no matter what the rationale, if we are going to  sit children in front of these films, we need to question the messages we are exposing them to.

That said, Watership Down is known as a seminal film for a reason. The animation is idiosyncratic and distinctively stylised, with emphasis on pictorial representations of the declining British countryside. There is unapologetic moralising which is clearly lacking in some of the more lightweight animations produced subsequently, though the conservationist point is slegdehammered in towards the end. This is definitely an instance where I’d advise watching with children on first viewing as, violence and atypical quantities of gore aside, there’s certainly plenty of content they may not understand. Fiver’s fits and visions can be frightening and the totalitarianism the pilgrim rabbits encounter could well be bewildering to children raised in liberal democracies (such as they may be).

So, while accessible to children, this is a film I’d strongly recommend to adults. I didn’t see Watership Down till I was in my twenties, though most of my peers had encountered it in childhood and I still took a lot from it. For older viewers there is far more to be read in terms of allegory and criticisms of political regimes and rampant ‘progress’ (in this case industrialisation.)

Some of the soapboxing may be a little hard to swallow and the inherent attitude to women is troubling, but overall this is a strong film and a welcome variation to the sanitised dross often delivered under the rubric of ‘family movie’.

WATERSHIP DOWN (Martin Rosen, 1978. UK)

***Full Spoilers***

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