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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2024

GoCritic! Review: When Adam Changes


- Packed with humour and elements of horror, Canadian director Joël Vaudreuil’s story explores themes of body shaming, fear and the challenges of being a teenager

GoCritic! Review: When Adam Changes

Canadian filmmaker Joël Vaudreuil’s animated comedy-drama When Adam Changes is one of the highlights of the Grand Competition - Feature Film section in this year’s edition of Animafest Zagreb. The movie’s Croatian premiere follows its bow at the 2023 Annecy Festival and subsequent showings in numerous festivals.

When Adam Changes is about the difficult and confusing adolescent age and summers which are far from being fun. It follows 15-year-old Adam who has an unusual quirk: every time someone makes a comment about his body, his physique changes to match the remark. Already far from ideal standards, his body becomes further deformed, but this is only noticeable to Adam, clearly showing that we’re simply seeing his own perception of his appearance. Everything becomes much more difficult that summer, when his biggest bully, his grandmother, Ange, dies. His father forces him to work summer jobs to gain more independence, he decides to make a move on his love interest, he has to work through complex relationships with his family and try to accept the dangerous and frightening world around him.

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The film opens in a hospital room where the dying grandmother's last words are, "I've always said you had a long torso". Every negative comment reinforces his perception of himself as an undesirable outsider, compounded by a past accident caused by his chubby body, when he accidentally injured a little boy whom he now perceives as a constant threat. The main emotion driving Adam is fear: fear of family members, of rejection, of being laughed at, of talking to girls, of expressing emotions, of making mistakes - fear of simply existing. The music reinforces this feeling, creating the sense that something very bad is about to happen. Vaudreuil, who has a musical background, creates synth music reminiscent of John Carpenter. His own screenplay, music, and editing harmonise with each other to enhance feelings of unease and fear, and, when combined with the film’s often unexpected bursts of humour, evoke a somewhat unique and disconcerting atmosphere.

The director also makes extensive use of dreams to reveal Adam's subconscious fears and thoughts. Elements of a typical 1980s action show, which he watches repeatedly in his free time, also appear in his dreams, depicting common fantasies for teenage boys and going some way to dissipating his fear of the world. The inclusion of horror elements in this coming-of-age movie is a savvy choice, serving to illustrate how terrifying the teenage years can be for any ordinary boy.

The social context adds an additional layer to the film. The class difference between the school students is exemplified by the fact that every day of Adam's summer feels like a reflection of someone else's life, an observation, and a desire to be different, until he finally decides that it's time for a change. 

Vaudreuil employs the cut-out technique to tell his story, with slightly subdued, shady colours reflecting the moods of the characters and the environment, which is presented as realistic. The director employs the aesthetics of 1990s animated TV shows like Beavis and Butt-head, aiming for a less embellished and rougher image. Each of the characters’ individual flaws are incredibly pronounced, whether it's deformed faces, awkward teenage moustaches, or pimples, but Adam's figure is the most exaggerated and prominent, offering up a tangible representation of his experience. The teenager’s deformed body is directly proportional to his feelings and emotions, once again emphasising the uniqueness not only of the film itself, but also of the animation medium.

When Adam Changes is a Canadian production by Parce Que Films.

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