Saturday, September 03, 2011

Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit

Directed by Egmont Mayer, Germany, 2009, 8 minutes

There is a man with an extremely large rabbit in his apartment. We're given no information about where this rabbit came from, how it got so big, or why the man seems so concern with keeping the rabbit and hiding it from everyone else. It doesn't sound like much of a story.

But I think that Egmont Mayer does a great job of creating a story with a surprising amount of depth without telling the audience anything. He establishes the man's isolation from the world with one shot of the lock he has put on his door. He also does a great job showing the man's complicated relationship with the rabbit. The man is embarrassed, affectionate and covetous of the rabbit, all at the same time.

In his description of the film, Mayer describes the rabbit as representing "habits that start out small and grow into something life threatening[.]" And suddenly we all recognize the story being told. We all have a friend who starting playing too many video games or got a little too in to collecting something. And they shut themselves off with their growing rabbit. When you read this into the film, the story fills out. That's what I love about this movie. That and the giant rabbit.

Friday, September 02, 2011


D: Juan Pablo Zaramella, Argentina, 2007, 3 minutes

 Juan Pablo Zaramella's animated shorts are at once profound and amusing, whether he uses clay, ink or stop-motion live action. In Lapsus, a black-and-white nun finds that living in a black-and-white world can be very dangerous indeed. Armed dialogue entirely consisting of "ohmygod!," the little nun's curiosity gets the better of her as she is transformed many times over.

In fact, this curiosity is what makes Lapsus a bit more profound that your run-of-the-mill animated video. Should a devout nun be testing such curiosity? Look what happens to her when, down to the eyeballs, she bounces back into the (white) world! Zaramella may indeed be operating with tongue-firmly-in-cheek here about Catholicism in general. We might be easy to dismiss such an argument, if a glance at some of Zaramella's other shorts did not also indicate a social agenda of sorts: while Sexteens is clearly also made as a public service announcement of a sort, there is also moralistic judgment here. The same could be said for Lapsus, who rightly gives the nun a come-uppance when, knowing what she knows, she investigates just one more time...

Zaramella's work has traveled the film festival circuit extensively; this one was featured at Sundance and won awards at his animation festivals in Hiroshima and Sao Paolo, and his new one, Luminaris, won awards at Annecy and screens this weekend at Telluride (paired brilliantly with The Artist). (Lapsus may be the only short animated film to offer a hilarious "behind the sins" short as well.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


TERCERO B (Apartment 3B)
Directed by José Mari Goenaga, Spain, 2002, 19 minutes
(Please note that the embedded film does not contain English subtitles.)

With frenetic graffiti slicing across the screen accompanied by the eerie, staccato screech of dissonant strings, José Mari Goenaga's Tercero B announces its Hitchcockian intentions right from the opening credits. The camera pans right across the graffitti'd wall to reveal a placid beach, where a middle-aged woman, Irene (played brilliantly by Blanca Portillo, perhaps most famous for Almodóvar's Volver and Broken Embraces), undresses to bathe in the winter sea. Some nearby young men, certainly looking unsavory, make her think twice about leaving her clothes and her purse -- and, seeing a man with a nicer sweater and a leather jacket reading a newspaper, she asks him to watch her things. He says yes. She comes back from her swim to -- naturally -- find both the man and her purse gone.

To describe the film any further would be to give away all the deliciously entertaining atmosphere that Goenaga gleefully -- and very quickly -- builds. Like the wall hiding the beach, nothing in this film is what it seems -- Irene, for example, lives with a monster of a mother, who treats her daughter like a doormat and refuses to lend her any money . The first half of the film sets up a tight narrative, then backs up at the two-thirds point to revisit the same narrative from another perspective. Despite the relatively short length, however, Goenaga develops Irene's sad-sack character just enough to make us care for her: she is not very pretty, yet she dresses up when there might be a chance (however sudden, however strange) for love, for getting away from her mother. Hitchcock sets up Marion in Psycho just to make us care when she gets the knife; Goenaga takes the same conceit in a different direction, with a tenser result.

The film is structured uniquely as well, getting us far into the action of the narrative before flashing the action back to the beginning to follow a different character. Indeed, we figure out that the characters have enlaced (trapped?) themselves in the titular apartment long before they do -- although we don't really know howmuch until it is far too late. Goenaga wisely does not show us everything at once, and the fun thrill of this film comes from suddenly learning a piece of information that we did not have before, information that alters everything we have thought about these characters up until that point. (Indeed, that happens several times within the very short duration of the film.)

The last shot is particularly thrilling: the camera sits around waist-level facing the kitchen, but still in the hallway looking in. When our characters each enter (and it is very difficult to type this without giving everything away), the spring-loaded door swings back, the pendulum motion slowly obscuring more and more of the long shot of the characters after they enter. Each time I watch this film, the sick part of my brain wants to hold the door open to watch the primeval forces battling behind it -- and yet, by leaving the spectator behind the doorway, Goenaga teases us into wanting more. Indeed, an ending like this actually denies us a proper response -- and opens up the opportunities for interpretation. Instead of opting for the quick and thrilling conclusion,  Tercero B forces us to reconsider our relationship what and how we view even the shortest of stories.