Nine Nation Animation

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of five): ****

You may remember the series of short films that opened in limited release back in 2008 under the name of the longest short in the bunch: L’origine de la tendresse (previous coverage). This fine program of live action films was brought to theatrical fruition via a little company called The World According to Shorts and a fellow named Jonathan Howell. Established in 2000, its initial venture (The World According to Shorts) was released via New Yorker Films. That storied film distributor, after taking a hiatus for a year or two, is back in business again and is distributing The World’s… latest assemblage of animated shorts titled Nine Nation Animation. As expected, it’s a good one.

Chosen, I suspect, as much for diversity of subject matter and style, as for their command of same, these films are not particularly new (the oldest, in fact, dates back nearly a decade), but they are all worth seeing.

In Deconstruction Workers, directed by Kajsa Naess, (2008, from Norway, 6 minutes) a kind stop-action/live-action combines with an animated background as a pair of construction workers wax bourgeois-philosophical as the world appears to deconstruct around them.

Average 40 Matches, from Burkay Dogan and M. Sakir Arslan (2010, Turkey, 3 minutes) is the shortest of the bunch (the slightest, too), as matches venture from their box, rather like sperm swimming toward fertilization, and carry off a lone cigarette to have their way with her. Boom!

Bâmiyân, from Patrick Pleutin (2008, France, 14 minutes) which may be the most beautiful of the lot, details a eastern monk’s travels via narration combined with highly impressionistic visuals in a painterly style with textured brush strokes and globs of paint forming “pictures” that offer a primitive, mythic history of the earth.

These first three films seemed to me oddly distancing, keeping us out emotionally despite their wit (the first), brevity (the second) and beauty (the third). All this changes with number four: Please Say Something from David O’Reilly (via Ireland and Germany, 10 minutes, 2008). Here, an extremely sophisticated combination of futuristic art, design, color, style and lettering combine to tell the tale of a century-to-come in which cats and mice pair up in relationships (that seem, oh so close to our own) and that make a kind of love/abuse story that’s strange, funny and yes, even moving.

Flatlife, by Jonas Geirnaert (Belgium, 11 minutes, 2004) is comprised of four identically sized panels in which life in an apartment complex goes on via somewhat rudimentary-looking but appropriately simple -- even sophisticated -- animation. The residents hang a picture, play cards, watch TV and do laundry. But then the panels and their residents begin to interact, in what passes for “cooperation,” to very funny affect.

Consumerism is nailed with a vengeance in Veljko Popovic’s She Who Measures (2004, Croatia, 7 minutes) in which a blinkered, blinded populace is led around by a clown -- taking, taking, taking, but to no healthy effect. The animation here is decidedly, bleakly Eastern European, as is the story and theme.

The saddest piece in the lot – leavened with some lovely humor, however – is Robert Bradbrook’s and writer Ian Sellars’ Home Road Movies (2002, the UK, 12 minutes). Combining live action (and a fine, live actor: Bill Paterson) with an animated background and sometimes foreground, too, this little gem details dad (Paterson) and his penchant for “travel.” Initially funny and charming, the short film grows bleaker and sad, as a parent’s obsession is realized as a kind of escape from a life unfulfilled.

The Blackheart Gang’s The Tale of How (2006, South Africa, 4 minutes) is full of Brueghel-influenced landscapes come to animated life – with birds, squids and other odd monsters – set to music. In fact, this one is approximately the length of a song – and a nasty one, at that!

Never Like the First Time from Jonas Odell (2006, Sweden, 14 minutes) is all about, yes, that first time. We see/hear four different stories of losing it, two from women, two from men, with interestingly diverse animation to accompany each. It’s as though four different animators did the work -- a credit indeed to Mr. Odell -- and while the first three stories are rather bleak, the last one, told by an elderly man, makes the first time (perhaps via the fog and re-jiggering of memory) seem at last like something memorable.

DVD-watchers, unlike those who saw the film at a theater, get a little bonus here, with the addition of a tenth short film that turns out to be one of the best. The Runt, from Andreas Hykade (2006, Germany, 10 minutes) offers some of the simplest and most charming of animation styles, as a young boy is given the runt of a rabbit litter to have as a pet for one year (note the wonderful wiggling of the animal’s nose). After which he must kill the bunny. A real coming-of-age tale, this is also one moving little movie.

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