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GOCRITIC! Fest Anča 2023

GoCritic! Review: The Debutante


- A young woman finds a way out of attending a dinner dance held in her honour via a “Prince and the Pauper” scenario gone wrong

GoCritic! Review: The Debutante
The Debutante by Elizabeth Hobbs

If you were to describe the worst dinner-guest possible, you might picture them as bad-mannered, talking loudly with their mouth full and emitting a pungent smell. At some point they might get drunk and climb onto the table, crushing exquisite crystal wine glasses beneath their dancing feet. This would be scandalous enough if the offending guest were human... but what if it were a hyena?

Elizabeth Hobbs’ eight-minute animation follows a young woman who rejects social norms and incidentally sabotages her own dinner dance, persuading a four-legged resident from London Zoo to attend in her stead as guest of honour. As you might expect, chaos ensues, resulting in a daringly funny commentary on feminism, and the need to find the courage to follow your dreams and oppose the superficiality of upper-class traditions.

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The Debutante is based on a semi-autobiographical short story by surrealist Leonora Carrington, whose real life was no less intriguing than her fictional iterations (despite a lack of actual hyenas). She came from a wealthy family and, in 1935, at the age of 17, she was officially "introduced" into public aristocratic circles at the court of King George V (in a semi-ritualistic process which was known as making one's social "debut," hence the word debutante, or "deb" for short).

This rebellious young woman quickly escaped to France where she became a successful painter and novelist and later continued fighting for women's rights in Mexico. Her story caught the attention of British director Hobbs, who translated it into movement, colour and gentle ink-strokes. The Debutante made it onto this year’s Oscars’ shortlist, and for good reason: it combines several animation techniques without looking arbitrarily eclectic, it displays incredible attention to detail and it pays homage to Carrington without imitating her artistic style in any way.

Hobbs successfully diversifies her distinctive and traditional ink-on-paper approach with flashes of cut-out animation, collage and painting. Hutch Demouilpied’s elegant, classical score immerses us even deeper into the atmosphere of the 1930s, accompanying Hobbs’ creative experiments and amplifying their expressive allure. While the dinner party the film depicts might have "failed," The Debutante itself definitely satisfies our appetite for creative animation.

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