GoCritic! Review: Headprickles and Sierra, two facets of laughter
– In our first Animest story, Vlad Marina selects two hilarious films from the Short Competition section
The opening screening of the Animest Short Film Contest is expected to come with a variety of stories, themes, and aesthetics. There were films about alienation and the loss of love (Felix Reineckerit is Migrator birds, Shi-Rou Huangit is girl in the water), political metaphors (Phoebe Wangit is fish eyes, Elizabeth Hobbs‘ The beginner), animated documentaries (Tsunami Girl by Leo Compasso, Carlos Balseironsa, Antonio Balseiro and Emiliano Rodriguez Nuesch), pastoral fables (Tomar Olletchit is Boy), experimental poems (Aggie Pak Yee Leeit is beauty and the beasts, Zhiheng Wangit is The patient’s mind), utopias (pink noise by Ulysse Lefort, Martin Wiklung and Arthur Lemaitre) and dystopias (Marta Pajekit is Impossible figures and other stories I). However, only two shorts tried – and succeeded – to make the audience laugh out loud. They did it in different ways, without necessarily being lightweight.
The first of them is Mechanic Katarzyna quills, which could best be described as a series of nonsensical sketches describing the events of an (extra)ordinary life, events which are then twisted to unlikely – and quite amusing – results. An emerging Polish director and animator, Miechowicz has already shown an affinity for Kafkaesque montages in her previous short film crumbs of life (2020), equally blending the everyday and the critically acclaimed surreal. With Quillswe can say that its formula has matured well.
In terms of animation style, the film favors strong colors, low detailed backgrounds, unusual angles, rough 2D movements and often distorted shapes. It’s all not clear from the outset: the opening landscape is designed rather naively, with dewy hills, roughly sketched trees, and a childishly drawn sun. As soon as the ethereal music stops, however, we zoom out and the landscape reveals itself ominously like the eyes of a weary nun, with the sun as an eyeball. More such vignettes follow: a martial arts guru seated in his narcissistic studio, surrounded by portraits of himself, is interrupted in his contemplation by the fall of one of the images; a woman in a grocery store spends several seconds deciding to buy a single banana; a surreal oversized businessman discovers living (and singing!) kernels inside the fruit he’s eating, only to throw them away, unimpressed. And, perhaps most strikingly and absurdly of all, a centaur inserts coins into an empty claw machine, then struggles to pick up a nonexistent object.
There is a fundamental futility in these characters and their actions. Their world is deterministic, meaningless, with passive actors obeying predetermined and arbitrary laws. Why, then, do we find it funny? Maybe it’s because everyone seems so accepting of their fate that they achieve an almost zen-like tranquility. Not caring about the absurd is, in itself, absurd, and therefore ultimately liberating. Katarzyna Miechowicz certainly takes Camus’ advice seriously and imagines Sisyphus laughing.
By comparing, Sierrathe latest short from the established Estonian animation filmmaker Sander Joon has quite a different approach to humor and, for that matter, to life. Having already won several awards at the time of its Animest screening, the film stands as a warm yet ironic parable about parents’ desire to see their children follow in their footsteps.
Here we have a father – inspired by Joon’s – who has always been passionate about racing cars. He is seen working in the garage, sporting a strict mustache, a permanent cigarette in the corner of his mouth and a blue work suit, quietly dreaming of converting his disinterested son. To do this, he decides one day to take her on a real race, but, of course, things don’t go as planned.
Using this simple but effective scenario as a backbone, Sierra manages to establish both a dynamic rhythm that keeps us invested in the course of events, and a carefully controlled nostalgic vibe that functions as a potential spark for our personal and cultural associations, facilitating our emotional involvement. The colors are simple and bright, the character and item designs are still playful (oversized round faces, racing cars with five pedals and six headlights), and the overall environment is lively and accomplished enough to feel like a world to full share.
The race itself is quite spectacular. Like in the old cartoons, the laws of physics are exuberantly broken, with photographers rolling down the track and keeping pace with the cars, a team of frogs managing to get a tire moving and two drivers able to pull one last – second victory while their car and their bodies are on fire. Taking into account the careful editing and the groovy soundtrack, the end result is a rather intense and moving ballad, whose bittersweet ending shows that even the delicate subject of parental mistakes and their potentially traumatic effects can be approached with franchise.
Whether Quills’ laughter is existential and sarcastic and Sierra’s is, on the contrary, lively and compassionate, both are undoubtedly memorable, making the films strong contenders for an award in their section.