This time we head back a year to some festival-friendly animated indies in 2018. These films are pretty much passion projects from the creators, and you can see the love for the craft every single minute in the films. Three very different stories from three different regions. From the true story of his mother during the Khmer Rouge in Funan, to Studio Ponoc’s several intimate shorts and finally to Nina Paley’s 7-year in production for a film that eventually released for free. It’s a solid batch of films all around. Next time, we’ll head to Spain for some of their most acclaimed features in 2010s. For now, enjoy.
The Khmer Rogue genocide is a topic that I grew up hearing a lot about, so the subject matter is definately personal to me. Funan tackles that dark period through a personal story of a family. In a way, I consider Funan as a companion piece with First They Killed My Father, given both deal cover the same timeframe and same personal experience, one from a child point of view and the other from a parent who has to look for their lost child (if I have to pick which one is better I’d choose First They Killed My Father, just because it’s harder to pull from a kid’s perspective). With that view I can look past Funan’s decision not to focus on the kid’s story. Unlike the parent’s section, the segments regarding the kid have little to no dialogue (the only lines he says as far as I can recall were when he calls out “Mama” at the end, which is fitting). It’s a brave approach that Funan hints instead of forcibly throws at us the crimes / violences during that dark time period. Instead, Funan embraces a much more small-scale but personal journey. The best part for me is when Funan explores the complex relationship between the parents and one Khmer Rouge girl whom they saved her life, especially the Mother’s view of it. The art and animation are solid in general, although the French dub did throw me off the first few minutes. Funan is another crowning achievement of animation that aims for mature audience.
(4 / 4)
Modest Heroes (2018)
Studio Ponoc was born after the hiatus of Ghibli. As a result, it makes perfect sense for me that they would concentrate on shorts after the disappointing Mary and the Witch Flower. They serve both as smaller projects for Ghibli’s veterans, but moreover they serve as new directions for Studio Ponoc’s studio identity. The anthology film Modest Heroes might be clocking at just an hour mark, but it produces three magnificent shorts that both technically impressive and skillfully written narrative. I love the first two shorts dearly – Kanini & Kanino directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (director of previous Ghibli films Arrietty and When Marnie Was There) and Life Ain’t Gonna Lose by Yoshiyuki Momose (veteran animator of Ghibli). They are both gentle, warm, human and so different from each other. While the first short is entire dialogue-free with its Ghibli-friendly aesthetic, the second short feels pretty much like Isao Takahata’s oeuvre with its focus on small moments of a child and his mother fighting for his egg allergy – a daily ongoing battle but the short nails it with its nuance and sensitive approach. The third short, Invisible directed by Akihiko Yamashita, is the most experimental out of the bunch and while it doesn’t hit me on personal chord like the two previous shorts did, it’s the wildest and most risk-taking short out of the bunch and I appreciate it for that. The only downside of this anthology, to sum up, is that it was originally intended to include another short of the late-Takahata, but since his passing away I can only say that I’m happy with what we have.
(3 / 4)
It’s interesting and inspiring to see an artist working outside of conventional industry model. Seder-Masochism is not only an independent project down to the T, in which Nina Paley handled most of the production (and even voicing) all by herself, but also the way she made the film without any commercial prospect in mind, as Seder-Masochism, just like her first feature Sita Sings the Blues, was distributed freely online. The film itself is a delight and it is original in every sense of it. Based on a biblical epic with humorous, irreverent view point and a drop of feminism perspective, plus a lot of tap-along musicals with dancing goddesses, Seder-Masochism is a unique take on religious extremists and the core of belief itself. But the most effective method she uses is the tape-recording conversations between her and her father on the religious subject, in which his father is visualized as God in his dollar bill skin and herself as a sacrificed goat. While this film is not as refreshing – and I could argue, not as personal – as her debut Sita Sings a Blues, Seder-Masochism is more biting, whimsical and still offers a singular voice that we need to see more often.
(3 / 4)
As a bonus, Paley’s own take on Exodus as “the establishment of complete patriarchy, the elimination of any remaining goddess-worship from older times”. So, enjoy the dancing goddess gif as a tribute to these brave female voices.