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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Comparative Review: Terrible parents in Animafest Competition shorts

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- Three impressive and very different films in Animafest's competition deal with difficult situations around family dinner tables, ruled by overbearing and despotic parents

GoCritic! Comparative Review: Terrible parents in Animafest Competition shorts
The Juggler by Skirmanta Jakaitė

Parents and children often have tricky relationships on-screen, but some of the shorts in this year’s Animafest Zagreb's Grand Competition are a far cry from traditional family drama. Complex dynamics involving abusive parenting, over-protective mothers and overbearing fathers are depicted in original, disturbing and extraordinarily bizarre ways, and three shorts in particular stand out for their unique and diverging approaches to narrative and form. Domestic rage around the dinner table has never been so unpredictable.

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Skirmanta Jakaitė’s The Juggler (Lithuania/France), is a thought-provoking exploration of how human obsession with trivialities can affect the way we interact with each other, particularly within the family home. The story unfolds as a series of surreal vignettes of different dysfunctional families. Jakaite’s world is a loveless universe where there’s no space for affection, only cold resentment.

“No one needs a failure,” says a mother to her young daughter as the latter decorates a cake incorrectly. Three scared siblings hide behind a couch, while alarming screams and the sound of plates breaking invade their living room. Another boy cries out for attention from his father who’s too busy with ‘important’ tasks, such as making the world's first giant spider made of spiders.

All the adults in these wonderful, award-winning oddities are so preoccupied with juggling their ‘responsibilities’ that they leave their innocent children on the periphery, deprioritised by this self-centred crowd.

Flood by Malte Stein

Malte Stein’s Flood (Germany), on the other hand, is a dark portrait of a suffocating single-parent family, where a manipulative and overprotective mother forbids her son from leaving their apartment for fear of the impending flood. The son, though clearly scared of upsetting his mother, slowly begins to rebel against her, joining a group of thugs from the local neighbourhood. When he goes on a night out with them, partying and popping pills to repetitive electronic music, the boy's mother hides his clothes and subsequently grounds him, using the rising flood as her justification. She won’t leave the flat either as they have enough provisions to keep them safe for a while. Following a horrifyingly grotesque dinner scene, Flood might prove to be a film that’s hard to digest.

As the protagonist advances towards sexual emancipation, Stein adopts a bold and original style to explore the oedipal tendencies of the former, transforming Flood into a truly unconventional nightmare of a film. The director's fixed camera evokes the sensation of being trapped in a small space, while the character's distorted faces, grinding teeth and veiny skin turn every interaction into a genuinely disturbing experience.  

Balázs Turai’s The Fall of Rome (Hungary/Croatia), meanwhile, tackles topical Hungarian issues with satire. It’s set in 2048 following a nuclear apocalypse, in a world where all surviving humanoids have gas masks for mouths and take refuge under an immense glass dome in fear of the amphibian ‘enemies’ inhabiting the outside world.

The story centres on a family governed by a hateful fanatic of a father who perceives any deviation from the imposed norms as an abomination. One day, he takes his young son off to hunt the mutant frogs for ‘educational purposes’. The adults are beyond excited at the idea of shooting at the strange neighbours with their phallic-shaped weapons. “Women and children first. They run faster”, the father instructs his trembling son. But when we finally see these ‘monsters’, they actually turn out to be joyful and colourful axolotl-like creatures who live in peace.

Following this massacre of innocents, the child decides to venture outside the Dome with his little sister to learn more about this marginalised community. But instead, the two siblings learn a lot more about themselves.

Many audiences might find Turai’s humour and style too exaggerated, to the point of feeling somewhat forced and too consciously vulgar. However, his intention of tackling ideas around queer identities and institutionalised bigotry through satire is both noble and ambitious.

The Fall of Rome by Balázs Turai

All three shorts tell their stories from the perspective of children, in their desire to be loved and their need to rebel against order. The execution of these films, however, couldn’t be more different. Where Flood employs a sepia and monochrome colour palette to reflect a sense of gloom and oppression, Jakaite’s rich tapestry of oneiric sketches in The Juggler, combined with the eerie and unearthly sounds of Norwegian ambient composer Biosphere, creates a uniquely chilling atmosphere that stays with the viewer long after the film has ended, like a remnant of some distant dream. Meanwhile, The Fall of Rome is over-the-top, vulgar and hysterical, and a big middle finger to anyone blinded by prejudice, particularly when it comes to the absurd and proudly camp climax of the film, which involves some oversaturated, multi-hued fluids.

After all, family bonds do come in many colours.  

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