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GOCRITIC! Anifilm Liberec 2024

GoCritic! Review: Antipolis


- Seasoned Estonian director Kaspar Jancis’ first solo directorial venture into 3D stop-motion animation takes the viewer to an imaginary world where a tyrant rules over a numbed population

GoCritic! Review: Antipolis

One of the standout films of the Short Films Competition at Anifilm Liberec is Antipolis (2023) by Estonian director Kaspar Jancis. Jancis’ career spans over two decades, in which he has mostly focused on 2D animation shorts. Antipolis is his first solo directorial venture into 3D stop-motion animation.

The 26-minute film opens in a mine shaft where workers harvest diamonds. From their carts, the precious minerals are moved into a distillery, where lab employees operate complex machinery to turn the stones into a mysterious purple liquid. The people working in the mines and the laboratory are nearly immobile puppets, whose limited movements are only driven by the stop-motion editing. The scene is composed of hyper-symmetrical framings and moves at a rapid pace, as if the machines control the process more than the workers are able to.

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The purple liquid is transported out of the mines and the rest of the world of Antipolis gradually reveals itself. It’s a barren wasteland on the surface, with its only two notable settlements being a giant circus tent and a large construction akin to a Ferris wheel, operated by a circus monkey. The only seat on the wheel is taken by the mayor of the town guarded by the chimp. He is a vicious tyrant who controls his subjects by distracting them from the labour of the mines with the spectacle of the circus: Panem et circenses.

A key influence for Antipolis is clearly the work of Roy Andersson. Jancis’ previous films, such as Piano (2015) and Cosmonaut (2019), already show similarities with the Swedish director’s films. In both of these, Jancis opts for a deadpan style to tell the tales of elderly men who have lost a sense of purpose in their lives. Antipolis is tonally consistent with those two films, but widens its scope through its narrative: the story revolves more around the community of Antipolis than a singular protagonist.

The film’s production design also leads to a dimension lacking in Jancis’ previous films. Antipolis’s hand-crafted puppets and sets create bodily limitations for its characters that correspond with the societal constraints of Antipolis. An example of this is the physical impossibility of the puppets to express their emotions, as their design includes only one facial expression. Take the living cannonball working for the circus, who soars through the sky completely devoid of emotion, perceived by his audience in an equally flat manner.

There are also moments when the characters try to break out of their constraints. It is both funny and gripping when a female worker tries to change her facial expression from a frown into a smile, an action that deforms the puppet unnaturally. This contrarian gesture raises questions on exactly what entity controls the people of Antipolis – it’s as if they’re living inside a panopticon. 

Liberation is lurking in the last part of the film, as one of the characters tries to escape his circumstances by becoming a cosmonaut, albeit a very unconventional one.  This leads to a chain reaction of unforeseen events, as Antipolis is visited by an otherworldly creature that turns the beliefs of the inhabitants upside down. Simultaneously, the mayor’s reign over the city is not as rigid as it previously seemed.

Antipolis devotes its climax to the spectacular accumulation of all those events. Jancis’ aim, however, is not a total freedom for his characters - that would be too naive. But the film does communicate that no matter how grim a situation may seem, extraordinary things can happen any time. 

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