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Review: Rock Bottom


- Spanish director María Trénor immerses herself in the music scene of the Seventies, with its psychedelics, hallucinatory love, and boundless creativity

Review: Rock Bottom

In honour of its fiftieth anniversary, María Trénor takes an incredibly poetic approach to depicting the gestation of the historic album Rock Bottom (which lends the film its title), which was composed by the brilliant Robert Wyatt - a founding member of Soft Machine - and produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason. Presented in a world premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, where it screened in the Official Competition, the Spanish director’s first feature film, Rock Bottom [+see also:
film profile
, opens with the torturous love story of the English musician and his future wife, the artist Alfreda Benge (Alif, in the film): a kind of Juliet and Romeo on acid, wrestling with the construction of a new world composed of art and journeys beyond reality.

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Whilst Rock Bottom undoubtedly takes its impetus from the close love story between Bob and Alif, it’s the film’s intriguing and poetic music which is the real protagonist, or rather the songs which feature on Robert Wyatt’s historic album. Depicted as if in a musical, they quite literally explode thanks to the boundless creativity of the film’s animation. With its anthropomorphic characters painted in watercolour, and more abstract images transcribing Alif’s inner world (Marta Gil Soriano’s animation is incredible) - too often stifled by a patriarchy whose tentacles reach so far as hippy communities - the film advances like a raging torrent. In line with the experimentation typical of Wyatt’s music, which merrily blends progressive rock, jazz, improvisation and psychedelics, the film’s animation tries to capture the essence of an artistic experience and a unique human being who is both naive and uncompromising, revolutionary yet stifled by the dictates of the “authority” she’s struggling to escape.

The director has insisted she wasn’t looking to make a biography, despite being inspired by the English singer’s life, but it’s clear that it could form the basis of a film in and of itself. Forced to rethink his entire existence as a result of an accidental fall from a window which left him paraplegic, Robert Wyatt successfully finished the historic album depicted in this film, at this incredibly delicate, transitional time in his life. Besides the film’s narration, which sometimes becomes superfluous, its real strength is its capacity to transport us not only into the minds of its protagonists, but even further, into their dreams. Full of nocturnal settings, hallucinogenic journeys and characters bordering on gothic (such as the crazy producer with the cornucopia headgear or the Pasolini-style patron who lives in Majorca), the film distances itself from a pure and simple love story to reveal a darker and more interesting side, exploring the contradictions and secrets which unite these two free yet tormented beings.

Ultimately, opting for animation and the artistic freedom this entails was undoubtedly wise, allowing the director to “duet” - in the truest sense of the word - with a very special album which still intrigues listeners today.

Rock Bottom is produced by Spanish firm Alba Sotorra SL in co-production with Jaibo Films (Spain), GS Animation (Poland) and Empatic Production (Spain). French outfit Loco Films are managing international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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