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Review: Unicorn Wars


- Alberto Vázquez creates a unique and moving fable about the human condition and the origin of evil

Review: Unicorn Wars

Paco Plaza once said that "terror is one of the most poetic ways of telling what happens to us as a society". This is what Alberto Vázquez manages to achieve through animation and the fantastic in his latest film, Unicorn Wars [+see also:
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, presented in the official section of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and at the 55th Sitges Film Festival.

Vázquez's animated film tells the story of two brother bears, Azulín and Gordi, who are recruited and trained by the bear army to fight in their war against the unicorns, whom they have an ancestral hatred for. But the two brothers are also fighting internally, as they have been at loggerheads all their lives over their love for their mother. From this two-level war plot, the filmmaker produces a fable about the origin of evil, the meaning(lessness) of war and also the price of that war.

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Unicorn Wars is based on the short Unicorn Blood (also by Vázquez). But with this feature film, the director wanted to take his narrative and visual approach a step further, being bolder and more ambitious in both senses. Its great strength comes from the imagination and sensitivity from which Vázquez constructs his film, and, in doing so, creates an entirely unique universe.  It clearly boasts an extraordinary aesthetic, with powerful visual images. The director cleverly uses colour, sound and the characters (the unicorns and the bears) to create this unique fictional world through their power of suggestion and their symbolic and metaphorical sense. However, this distinctiveness is also found elsewhere. Contrary to what it may seem like on the surface, this is a complex, multi-layered narrative. It is interesting how the filmmaker delves into the theme of the origin of evil through the intimate story of the main family (the bear brothers). He manages to reach and explore the issues that underlie it, not only in a collective sense (in terms of the power elites), but also in an intimate sense. The weight of ambition, religion and fanaticism, twisted relationships, the pain of loss, what suffering does to us, the need to love and be loved, the connection between life and death. All of this is presented in a suggestive, original way in Unicorn Wars.  

Another of the film's great qualities comes from its freedom, its free approach to both form and content. Although it has an anti-war sentiment, this does not necessarily mean that there is any message to be found. The filmmaker goes beyond this somewhat naïve discourse (although, in this sense, he does not pretend to be anything else) and raises questions and conflicts. Through fantasy, and the combination of action and reflection, the film manages to hold its own personality, its magic, and also to be amusing and captivating despite its bleakness.

There is a risk when shorts are turned into feature films: they lose their momentum with the longer run time. However (and although the middle part could be cut out), Alberto Vázquez manages to overcome this with a film that is as unique as it is magnificent in its approach. A film that is a compelling allegory of the human condition, told with as much tenderness as brutality.

Unicorn Wars is a co-production between Spain and France from the companies Abano Producións, Autour de Minuit, Schmuby Productions and Uniko, and will be distributed in Spain by Barton Films on 21 October.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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