Written & directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, Canada, 2007. Approx. 17 minutes.
Madame Tutli-Putli opens on an image that recurs twice more later in the film: moths drawn to a bright light. We are then introduced to Madame Tutli-Putli herself, a thin women with big eyes who appears to be crushed by the weight of her luggage. She boards a train, and for the first few minutes of the film she is subject to the sort of uncomfortable train ride that everyone dreads – old men playing chess glare at her, a young child is unfriendly, and the lecherous man across from her makes unwelcome sexual advances.
But as night falls, the slightly comic atmosphere completely fades away in favor of a dark, foreboding one. Madame Tutli-Putli is the only passenger left awake when the train stops for the night, and therefore the only one to notice when a band of mysterious creatures boards the train and releases a mysterious green gas. She awakes later to find that all of her possessions, and all of the other passengers, have gone missing. Madame Tutli-Putli runs through the empty, now fast-moving train, breathless and terrified, until she comes upon the moth that she saw earlier. The moth flies into a bright light and transforms into a human-esque figure; then the film ends on a shot of a silent forest.
What I loved about Madame Tutli-Putli is that it manages to be completely engrossing for 17 minutes without a single word of dialogue. This can be attributed to several factors, but the most important one is the quality of the animation. The film is beautiful and intricately detailed, from the corridors of the train down to the dainty gloves on Madame Tutli-Putli’s hands. It’s also very atmospheric, beginning with warm, dusty colors that evoke the title character’s melancholy and ending with cooler colors that better reflect her uncertainty and fear. Although the film was actually made with stop-motion animation, the movement is usually so seamless it almost looks computer-animated.
Interestingly, some of the film is computer-animated. All of the human eyes on the puppets are real human eyes, filmed and then digitally-inserted onto the puppets. Madame Tutli-Putli’s eyes are essential to the character; she does not express herself in words, so the subtleties of her face must be able to convey everything she’s feeling. The eyes humanize Madame Tutli-Putli and allow us to empathize with her in a way that animated eyes cannot.
Madame Tutli-Putli was nominated for the Best Animated Short at the 2008 Academy Awards, but did not win, which is unfortunate for the filmmakers considering it took them over 2 years just to shoot the film, and even more time to build the sets and then do the editing and special effects.
As for the story itself, I’m not sure exactly what to think. The final image of the moth-human in the light indicates to me that Madame Tutli-Putli has died, in which case I guess the train would symbolize her life. But what are the creatures that invade the train, and what happened to all the other passengers? What exactly happened after the green gas was released? Somebody help me out here please!