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GOCRITIC! Animest 2022

GoCritic! Review: Sasha


- Vlad Marina takes a look at Serghei Chiviriga's animated short Sasha, which won the main award in Animest’s Romanian competition

GoCritic! Review: Sasha
Sasha by Serghei Chiviriga

Anthropomorphising animal characters in order to speak of human matters is the one trick in the animation film handbook which will never cease to reassert its power and charm. This is certainly the impression one gets upon watching a film that puts it to work as cleverly as Serghei Chiviriga’s Sasha. The winner of the main award in the recent Animest’s Romanian competition, the film also marks a significant leap forward for the Moldovan director, whose otherwise warm and promising debut short The Best Costumer (2017) mainly stayed on the beaten track in terms of themes and style.

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Sasha’s story initially feels pretty straightforward: we follow the eponymous character, an insecure teen snail living in an abandoned playground taken over by nature, in his quest for love and self-discovery. Sasha has Nikita as a best friend and confidant, and wants to impress the girl he likes, the seemingly intangible Misha, for whom he fears he will never be cool (or brave, or handsome) enough. With these features of the traditional coming-of-age tale in place, we’re led to expect a standard form of narrative development. But here’s the twist: snails are hermaphrodites and have no fixed gender identity, which also means that (stereo)typical gendered behaviour, such as the macho display of courage that Sasha attempts in the opening sequences, makes little-to-no sense in their world. It’s this game-changing discovery, both scary and liberating, that the protagonist must come to terms with and adjust to in order to become a mature individual, and it’s this process that we follow from this point onwards.

The film’s resourceful, offbeat narrative is fully matched in terms of craftmanship. Whereas Chiviriga’s preceding short film featured stop-motion animation and puppet-like characters, Sasha feels more fluid and playful, overall, with its 2D animation and colourful, big-eyed, big-mouthed snails. The settings are just about as whimsical as they need to be to evoke a believable fantasy world, and the film’s chromatics evolve with the storyline in interesting fashion, ensuring subtle dramaturgical guidance for the viewer: light, childish shades of blue and green at the beginning, darker blue nuances at the first turning point, then red and purple hues as we leap towards the climax. A particularly significant contribution comes in the form of Filip Mureșan and Șerban Ilicevici’s sound design – an eclectic yet cohesive blend of ASMR-like whispers, ethereal synth drones, echoing howls, and reverberating water splashes – which noticeably augments our emotional involvement and viewing experience, especially during tenser moments.

As a whole, it all plays out as a visually compelling and endearing ride along the rocky road of adolescence and all its challenges, from coming to terms with one’s own body and sexuality to finding a loved one and forming connections, and, ultimately, shaping and performing a desired identity. More importantly, the personal gets political here, too, with the allegory of the hermaphrodite snails reading as a progressive statement against culturally assigned gender roles. Sasha’s trouble from within the story-world, the film suggests, might just be a symptom of real-world issues that require more attention and action from us. The suggestion is always gentle and empathetic, however. It might be said that Chiviriga has hit the sweet spot between an incisiveness which foregrounds cultural issues and a subtlety which leaves room for aesthetic interpretations. We can but wonder what the director will come up with next.

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