After watching a good deal of short films from this year’s online edition of the acclaimed Annecy Animation Festival, I thought I would share some of my favorite shorts to look out for in the future. First, I would like to highlight Lursaguak, with its magic-marker visuals and repeated rape scenes– nah, we won’t kid ourselves here, this isn’t a list of edgiest, most self-indulgent works of the festival. My favorites actually came from vast variety of countries, both established cult-favorite animators, and newer voices, and a range from a simple puppet narrative to both visual and grammatical experimentations.

Hope this list at least sparks interest in some of the most innovative examples of animated storytelling in recent years!

1. The physics of sorrow

dir. theodore ushev

Shortlisted for the Oscar last year, but not given a nod in the end, Theodore Ushev’s tender, masterful The Physics of Sorrow may be known for every frame being an encaustic painting. However, the way the film plays with light is even more astounding. A floating carnival sequence with flying swings feels as if it is made of pure light in its temporary teenage joy, but this glow pales in comparison to the crowd of dancers later on — hardly formed. Just glowing shapes filling the screen, blending together; but we know what they are, just as much as we know that same unifying togetherness.

Although adapted from a novel, The Physics of Sorrow feels more like the memory of a story. Cans in grocery stores transported far away to bring that familiar nostalgia, without ever being able to go back. It’s the trauma of war, and the dance of levity, and we are allowed to revel in the myth of history without record. “With the gas mask, he looks a lot like a Minotaur” we hear, and it’s clear how close we all are to the myths we create, stories to emulate the displacement and pain of the world.

2. Genius loci

dir. Adrien Merigeau

Adrien Merigeau’s sophomore work Genius Loci shows a world of illusion; what it is like “to be underwater together”. Each frame is beautifully hand drawn with ink on paper, and moves with a fluidity like a marker bleeding across soggy pages. It’s as if the story is being washed away as it is told. A lonely love story, one that wants to understand what it is like to be Black and to love a woman in a city flooded with emptiness, the film leaves behind a longing to stay and be seen. It’s the desire to spend some time with someone, to finally be able to truly connect, while they are left as a blank page of emotion; an empty frame without color. The film’s title comes from the protective spirit of a place in a classic Roman myth, and here it seems like that spirit is meant to keep us yearning.

3. Carne

dir. Camila Kater

Camila Katar’s Carne explores five different animation styles to tell five women’s stories. The first is the story of an overweight girl, and tells the tale of a single gym class, shown through stop motion pictures on a dinner plate. The second uses watercolor to show the story of puberty and a girl’s first period with paint running red like blood. The third is the story of a black transgender woman in Brazil, and it uses a glitch 2D animation to show the tensions with hetero-normative white societal structure. The fourth piece is about reaching menopause; a story of a lesbian animated with clay to show the malleability of her body and how it changes as she grows older. The final segment is the voice of a classic film actress, brought forward in time, and is scratched into celluloid film; like life screened on a silver screen.

Each chapter is titled after a level of cooking meat, from raw to well done, to show how women’s bodies are seen for their flesh before their minds. Each chapter is animated by a different animator to give a wide variety of women the opportunity to collaborate against this larger social issue.

4. Trauma Chameleon

dir. gina kamentsky

A riddle of sorts, Gina Kamentsky is firing in all cylinders with Trauma Chameleon; an abstract deconstruction of language and punctuation through the eyes of a wandering lab rat. Stumbling to make out words, they often blur together. Comma sounds like karma, which sounds like trauma; and these symbols that punctuate between our words suddenly sound like the words they help us pause processing. Poetry is a series of words, divided to create patterns to associate with their meaning. But poetry also comes through motion. We are lab rats in this experiment of language, an attempt to punctuate human communication into understandable parcels, flashes on a screen to break up information. As words flash before us, this small mouse never leaves. Its image blends with the words like a chameleon, and slowly the meaning begins to fade, and we are left with only sound and pictures scratched on film stock.

5. Something to remember

Dir. Niki Lindroth von Bahr

Niki Lindroth von Bahr has developed quite the cult following, and for good reason. Her more popular films are known for their stop motion musicals; near gibberish lyrics telling stories of alienation using animal puppets. Something to Remember’s cast of animal characters are all outcasts; pigeons, bugs, and fish that are hardly noticed or loved by the world singing a lullaby to an eerily empty city sized just for them. It is “six moments” in the future, yet it feels so alien to see this zoo without animals, and a melancholy send off to an eerie world. It feels like a warning song, the anxiety of a lonely age, a letter to her newborn child detailing what a world so fearful looks like. Certainly an acquired taste, with its dissonant music and overall strangeness, but the apocalyptic warning signal told through animal outcasts rings a little too true.

The online Annecy 2020 festival ran from June 15th to June 30th

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