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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Shorts Review: Comedy in Animafest's Opening Block

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- Our Uruguayan-born, France-based participant looks at the comedy characterising three films in the opening block of competition shorts at Animafest Zagreb

GoCritic! Shorts Review: Comedy in Animafest's Opening Block
Selfies by Claudius Gentinetta

For the opening of its 29th edition, the World Festival of Animated Film - Animafest Zagreb invited audiences to take a hard, albeit entertaining look at themselves. During the opening act, which consisted of a first slate of eight shorts selected to participate in the Grand Competition, one of the Croatian festival's main attractions, three works stood out as comedy-driven stories that strike at the heart of modern society’s shortcomings and seem to ask one question: who are we if we can’t laugh at our own faults?

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With Selfies, the inaugural short of the festival programme, Swiss filmmaker Claudius Gentinetta (Sleep, The Cable Car) seems to be holding up a funhouse mirror to the audience. Reflections on our social media addicted societies are no new thing, but Gentinetta and his team manage to find an engaging and ingenious way to make their story relevant by combining humour and critical thinking in a stimulating, blink-and-you-miss-it animation. The film, which starts with a P.O.V. image of a stranger’s feet in a swimming pool, rapidly becomes a rollercoaster of conjoined, painted pictures and weaves hundreds of lives into the web of self-constructed bliss that a smartphone camera can provide. 

Billed as a “selfie race around the world”, the film portrays the current obsession with this segment of our online culture by barfing out a torrent of faces, bodies and images of celebrities that are so colourful and hyperactive, it’s as if each and every Instagram user had breakfasted on energy drinks and cocaine before posting their pictures. The never-ending flood of images gushes past as quickly as these images lose their meaning, while Gentinetta emphasises both the lack of originality in the social media landscape and its ephemeral nature.

Undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser, Selfies reveals its true intentions in-between the laughs. The filmmaker makes a controversial decision to depict refugees landing on a beach with their dinghies and taking joy-filled photographs in this imaginary but all-too-relatable world where selfie sticks reach as high as skyscrapers. Mixing both hilarity and darkness, nothing is truly what it seems in this wild ride of an Animafest opener.

The Proposal by Gerlando Infuso

Gerlando Infuso’s sixth short film The Proposal (Belgium) takes a different approach to subverting audience expectations, transforming an apparently romantic tale into something more complex. 

Set in Brussels in the 1930s, the 15-minute film tells the story of two lovers who decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a restaurant run by a possessive chef and his unconventional waitress. The ideal implied by the title quickly turns into something very different when the characters begin to show their true colours in this world made out of puppets and very detailed sets.

Winner of the Best Animated Short Film award at the Warsaw International Film Festival, this stop-motion film takes a cue or two from Looney Tunes-style mischief and burlesque European vaudeville humour. Each of the characters’ actions or gestures is accompanied by a musical note or a sound, showcasing the talent of composer Erwann Chandon and Infuso's taste for great physical comedy.

Giving away the film’s twists would spoil most of the fun in The Proposal. Suffice to say the Belgian director managed to surprise the Animafest audience by taking his romantic tale into a more modern and sexually fluid direction, and he even made room for a bit of a fish fetish.

Where’s the Butter, Betty? by Will Anderson

As one of the most absurd films of the festival selection, Where’s the Butter, Betty?, the new work from the British director Will Anderson (Have Heart, Monkey Love Experiments), served as a great palate cleanser between some of the more serious-minded stories from Animafest’s first night. Opening with a birdlike being in a brightly coloured, homely kitchen, the film is based on a simple premise: fetching the afore-mentioned dairy product from where it’s supposed to be. The protagonist doesn’t seem able to handle simple tasks such as sitting down at a table or looking inside his fridge. Meanwhile, Betty is nowhere to be found and we might question whether she even exists.

Using repetition, muffled dialogue and a combination of other bold and creative decisions that might easily have worn out the audience, though thankfully they didn’t, Anderson’s film makes the most of its three-minute running time. By looping the same sequence where we see the butter appearing and disappearing, frustrating its owner in the process, Anderson seems to have gauged our stamina for the scene repetition just right, as it remains funny without becoming tiresome. A more experimental cut of this short can be found on YouTube where the filmmaker has posted a five-hour version. This “extended cut” seems to suggest that getting the duration of the film right was essential and one of the director’s main challenges in its creation.

After the Q&A session that followed the opening screening, where the filmmaker shared his own personal insights, it’s hard not to see Where’s the Butter, Betty? as a strange testimony of a failed relationship. It seems to imply that most relationships are doomed to a never-ending loop of mundane dramas that are an inevitable part of two people living together for the very first time.

Ultimately, Anderson’s absurdist, ridiculing look at what it means to share a home, and Gentinetta's and Infuso's pieces on self-obsession and love, made for an entertaining opening night at Animafest. Great examples of storytelling, they find unlikely humour in the various instincts people follow as they get about their everyday activities: taking a selfie, falling in love or just looking for that damn butter.

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