originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/624455...
It’s a Thursday, or as they say in the faraway mysterious land of France, un Jeudi! That means it’s time for our usual nuit d’animation!
As usual, the time is 7pm UK time, which is to say in just a few minutes for me to sort tech stuff (at time of posting)! The place is twitch.tv/canmom.
Tonight, we have a small selection of French animation from the 2000s and early 2010s, along with more recent student films. French animation occupies a pretty interesting third pole, with a distinctive use of line weight, and overall a different sort of stylisation compared to both the American and Japanese traditions, supported by some really excellent solid drawing skills in all sorts of different studios.
We’ll open with a short film: The Old Lady and the Pigeons, the 1999 debut of renowned animator Sylvain Chomet. Chomet has a remarkable ability to combine really extreme caricature with excellent solid drawing, not to mention a love of architecture. His films tend to defy prediction: I might describe the plot as “a starving Parisian gendarme discovers a passion for avian inflation” and I wouldn’t be wrong, but honestly, you cannot predict how this film plays out.
(Content note: some fatphobic visual gags in the bookending scenes here - an unfortunate habit of Chomet every time he depicts Americans, and one of the big flaws in what’s otherwise a really delightful short.)
Now, after that, my original plan was then to watch The Rabbi’s Cat (2011), about a Sephardic rabbi’s cat in Algeria who, on accidentally gaining the power of speech, converts to Judaism. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get my hands on a complete HD copy of this film, nor check whether the somewhat worrying later subplots (like a parody of the extraordinarily racist Tintin in the Congo) are gonna be stuff i’m ok with screening. I don’t have time to get a replacement, so we’ll postpone this one for a future animation night. Sorry, this is totally my fault, I should never have left this so late!
Instead, we’ll take the opportunity to go for a different autobiographical film: the French-Iranian Persepolis, based on the autobiographical comic by Marjane Satrapi. It tells the story of how she grew up through the Iranian revolution, and her increasing clashes with the theocratic government which eventually forced her to leave the country to escape persecution. It has a very cool abstracted, black-and-white style. This is a film I’ve been meaning to see for a while and I’m really looking forward to it.
Next, we’ll return to Chomet to see what is probably France’s most famous animated film, The Triplets of Belleville. Chomet’s major influences are the mime tradition and his early work with Aardman, and you can see both here - the film is almost entirely without dialogue, which is impressive given just how much happens in it. The opening act is a series of left-field twists - each time you start to think you know what the film is about, it goes somewhere different. Yet somehow, all these disparate, surreal strands come together into a story about four old ladies taking on the Mafia.
(Content note: there’s a scene near the beginning, which I’m planning to edit out, in which a 20s period montage includes a rather uncomfortable portrayal of Josephine Baker in her historical ‘banana skirt and nothing else’ outfit being harassed by an audience which turns into monkeys. It’s not fucked in exactly the predictable way for a Fleischer-era pastiche, but it was a really uncomfortable scene which does very little for the movie. Also the same ‘lol fat americans’ visual gags show up again a few times. Chomet is… a frustrating guy to engage with, honestly.)
To finish up, we’ll check out some of the work of the Gobelins animation school! I don’t know what tricks they pull at Gobelins, but their work is consistently incredibly stylish and surprisingly emotionally deep, in a whole range of different genres and visual styles. There’s a lot of them to watch, but after we feel like we’re at saturation there, we’ll wind down with some animated music videos!
Also, the French (and more broadly, Francophone) animation industry is pretty busy so if we enjoy this kind of thing, we can mix more French films in with the usual anime a little in the future. We shall see…
Despite all the technical mishaps and disorganisation on my part, animation night 11 went pretty well! Persepolis, which I hadn’t seen before tonight, was honestly an amazing film - clever, moving, often very funny in a suitably dark kind of way, and tbh, much better and subtler politics than its enthusiastic reception by Western liberals would have you expect.
Elaine was telling me some anecdotes about its production - Marjane Satrapi wasn’t expecting to be as involved as she ended up, and basically learnt to direct films on the job, which is wild given how confident and stylish the final film ended up being. Apparently a lot has been cut compared to the original comic (though notably not most scenes of her grandmother), so I’m going to get on and read that soon.
We also watched Le Portefeuille (The Wallet) by Vincent Bierrewaerts thanks to a rec from @argyrocratie. This is a cool high-concept short in which we see a number of possible timelines play out in parallel:
Anyway, here is the somewhat arbitrary selection of Gobelins shorts we watched tonight, in the order we watched them in:
Parfum Fraise (2017) - a yakuza man tries to leave the gangster life to raise his son. You can probably guess much of the rest from here, but it’s solidly executed.
Le Royaume (2010) - a wandering king appoints a nearby beaver to build him a palace. A lighthearted one which reminds me a little of Double King…
Hors de l’eau (2018) - a group of Japanese macaques do a bit of class struggle over access to a hot spring. Very cool composition of live film with traditional animation, matching the perspective of every drawing with the handheld camera motions must have been astonishingly hard.
In Orbit (2019) - an astronaut faces her trauma after her girlfriend is injured in a space accident. An example of the recurring Gobelins theme of ‘a woman doing a dangerous activity deals with her trauma over something that happened to her friend/sister/girlfriend doing that thing…’ (see also, Caldeira (2018) and Quand J’ai Remplace Camille (2017))
Wildfire (2015) - a firefighter returns to her family from an intense forest fire, but her mind is still with the flames. Lovely mood piece.
Myosis (2013) - largely an excuse to indulge in sakuga-y effects animation and surreal sci-fi imagery, I think. A man leaves his glowing girlfriend to walk under a big floating cube, which he soon has cause to regret when it turns him and everyone else into slenderman. But luckily his girlfriend is there to float in a cool way!
Killing Time (2019) - a woman is harassed by the anthropomorphic concept of time, and takes matters into her own hands. Delightful style, and it does some really clever effects by holding animation frames later on.
Anyway that’s only scratching the surface! Just in 2019 for example we have intense historical films such as Pour La France and Dogs, and surreal scifi like Protocole Sandwich. So absolutely dip into the Gobelins catalogue if you want to see some unreasonably stylish short animation.