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GOCRITIC! Anifilm Liberec 2024

GoCritic! Feature: Between Museum and Big Screen – Fine-Art-Animation at Anifilm Liberec


- We take a look at Anifilm’s historic programme that compiled films connected to fine arts spanning the era from 1946 to 2023

GoCritic! Feature: Between Museum and Big Screen – Fine-Art-Animation at Anifilm Liberec

One of the thematic focuses at Anifilm in Liberec was Fine-Art-Animation, a programme that explored the long-standing and complex relationship between animated film and visual arts. Apart from two sections that specifically focused on Czech animation — Unexpected Designers of Czech Films and Czech Collage Animation — there were two segments that compiled animated films from all over the world, spanning from 1946 to 2023: Gloria Victoria and Paintings Come to Life.

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The latter had quite a broad scope, featuring films that explicitly refer to famous paintings or painters. While the former — named after Theodore Ushev’s 2013 film that was also part of the programme — approached the painterly theme through famous depictions of battlefield scenes, sometimes quite literally, like Ivan Ivanov-Vano and Yurij Norshtein’s Battle at Kherzhenets (1971) which appropriates the aesthetics of 14th- to 16th-century Russian painting in cut-out puppet animation form. Sometimes the approach is more metaphorical, such as in Joanna Quinn’s Affairs of the Art (2021), which revolves around an artist fighting her internal battles.

Affairs of the Art by Joanna Quinn

An overarching theme in both sections was not just their reliance on fine arts, but also the different modes of representation that result from this referentiality. There were, for instance, films that embed the style of one specific artist or broader artistic movement into a cohesive fictional narrative. For example, in Cyclists (2018), Veljko Popović closely mimics the aesthetics of Croatian sculptor Vasko Lipovac. Many of Lipovac’s works are recreated in this 2D-animation short that revolves around a cycling tournament and the erotic fantasies of the cyclists. Despite the thematic sexual promiscuity, the style remains somewhat tame, as Popović’s faithfulness to the works of Lipovac overshadows his own artistic vision. 

The majority of the films in both sections were, however, more audacious, as their concepts went further than a simple homage. Take Georges Schwizgebel’s The Battle of San Romano (2017) and Gil Alkabetz’s The Da Vinci Timecode (2009), films that use animation techniques to alter the static experience of looking at a singular painting, leading to new perspectives on the artworks. Both films are studies of Italian Renaissance paintings: Uccelli’s “The Battle of San Romano” and Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. Schwizgebel introduces movement into Uccelli’s painting by closely investigating the details in the painting and animating them with a brush. The film starts with abstract shapes that fluidly morph from knights into horses and back. Gradually, the frame of the film widens and its details grow more concrete.

The Battle of San Romano by Georges Schwizgebel

In The Da Vinci Timecode, Alkabetz is equally interested in small details within the painting, but uses very rapid photomontage to animate them. This leads to sequences that give the illusion of movement, which is then rhythmically repeated. The hands of the table guests, for instance, seem to move in a circular pattern. By animating such details, it’s as if Alkabetz foregrounds possible sublimated messages within Da Vinci’s painting, the hand gestures giving an impression that there is some secret form of communication between the apostles. 

The programme also included a wide array of films that refer to more than one specific artist, instead, their referentiality is so abundant they’re almost like recaps of an art history class. Joan C. Gratz’s Oscar-winning short Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase (1992) and Witold Giersz’s Horse Portrait (2023) are the most direct examples of this.

Gratz recreates famous artworks in her film by employing clay painting. The 2D stop-motion animation associatively moves from one painting to another, starting from the Mona Lisa, moving into the works of Van Gogh and onward to Munch, compiling no less than 35 artists and even more paintings in its seven-minute running time. This film is more than just an impressive example of ‘spot the reference’ though, as Gratz intimately studies the famous faces from the art-history canon and seamlessly interweaves them with each other. An example is when Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe evolves into a portrait of a woman by Picasso. This spontaneous switch from pop art to cubism stresses not only in how wildly different manners these painting styles can approach something as elementary as a portrait, but also suggests the portraits of Warhol and Picasso are somehow connected.

Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase by Joan C. Gratz

The concept behind Horse Portrait is similar, as the film is a compilation of traditionally drawn animation horses in the style of famous painters, with their names credited in each portrait. Compared to Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, Giersz's film opts for a less associative, more literal approach. The exorbitant range of styles contrasts with the content of the film, always returning to the same horse. Despite the figurative nature of the film, the experience is at its most rewarding when the viewer treats it like an abstract film where form becomes content. When approaching Horse Portrait from that perspective, it might become noticeable that the moving pencil strokes no longer solely partake in constructing a cohesive image, but are simultaneously living a life of their own.   

The majority of the films in Gloria Victoria and Paintings Come to Life thus move away from a simple homage to the prestigious painterly universe. Instead, they boldly assimilate the works of famous visual artists, leading to daring films that use animation techniques to extend and rethink the not-so-static world of fine arts.

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