For this edition, we’ll visit some indies in 2016. 2016 is an excellent year for animation (which I will discuss further once I do the yearly review). These three are certainly not the cream of the crop, they’re too niched for a wider audience. After all, we have a story about old couple, a story about eldery woman wandering along the shore and a BL story. But precisely because of that, these overlooked gems have a freedom to tell the stories as they intended. Besides, they look distinctive and gorgeous as heck. Let’s dive in
Ethel & Ernest (2016)
Raymond Briggs is one of the leading figures in graphic novels in the UK, most widely beloved for his The Snowman books and the animated adaptation of When the Wind Blows. Ethel & Ernest is his loving tribute to his own parents (the fact that he highlights in the live-action segment at the start of the film), who lived their ordinary lives in the UK during and after WWII. Ernest & Ethel the graphic novel earned positive reception from the public and became one of the best selling books in England at the time. The story itself, details the ordinary lives of titular characters from the year they met until the time they passed away, during many historical backdrops, makes many compare it to the first 10 minutes of Up. But for me, the film’s structure is more akin to another 2016 masterpiece, In This Corner of the World, where their power lies in how these small moments in their lives add up and resonate as a whole. While the character designs are simple and Tintin-quese, the real treasures here are in the stunning background arts with a lot of attention to details, most notably the interior house that become a character itself and the detailed movements of the characters, on how they walk, how they move, and on their distinctive figure of speech.
Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent do a magnificent job of voicing the titular characters, Ethel and Ernest, and they immediately appear as likeable characters. In the span of the film’s runtime, we witness many extraordinary events through their “ordinary” viewpoint: the Depression, their first child born, WWII, the invention of TV, Moon-landing… Its passage-of-time approach means that the film often feels like snapshots of their key moments in life: it eschews any character arc and events are quickly resolved in the next frame, but Ethel & Ernest succeeds in inviting the audience to its world, with warm (and British) humors. Ethel & Ernest is gentle, evocative and moving.
(3 / 4)
Louise by the Shore (2016)
2016 is a year of cast-away in the animation scene. The Red Turtle is a glaring example of this, we could include Moana to some extent and Louise by the Shore is definitely another one. Jean-François Laguionie (in his 70s last decade) had a busy decade with 3 feature films, which form half of his filmography, and Le Tableau (2011) is one of my favorite animated films of that year. One thing that strikes me while watching Louise by the Shore is how damn brave the film is. It’s a story about an eldery woman who is stranded by herself in a French coast, so most of the time we follow her getting accustomed to the new life. I don’t see mainstream studios would approve this pitch in a million years, but the film more than carries itself through the main character Louise alone. She’s resilient, collected and her monologues are a delight. The art goes for more stripped down, pure style with a delightful pastel color palette. Laguionie’s original drawings provided the source material which was then brought to life using 3D computer animation. It’s the style that doesn’t bring attention to itself, yet it fits very well with the themes of the story.
In Louise by the Shore, we follow her as she realizes she is stranded alone in the town, then makes a cabin for herself, wanders around and finds a talking dog, Peppers, as her companion. The film serves as an allegory for aging, and even deals with many mature themes such as isolation, memory, friendship and existence itself. Here, Louise finds herself all alone, being remembered by none, and no one looks for her. But it’s not a sad thought. Not for Louise that is. Getting away from her cramped apartment in the city, this serves as an opportunity for her to make things, to enjoy life at her own pace. Louise by the Shore is not a straightforward tale, either, as there’s an undercurrent of dark magical realism within the film, sometimes as a nightmare, other times it plays like a waking dream, all add up to this strange little but engrossing tale. This film is minimalist, sure, but it’s also quietly humanistic and gentle.
(3 / 4)
With Doukyuusei (also known as Classmates), Shouko Nakamura proves to be a director to look out for. Prior to her debut feature, she was known for being a chief-director of Mawuru Penguindrum and was strongly associated with Ikuhara’s distinct style. Well, the art style translates very well here in Doukyuusei as quite simply, the bright, watercolor style makes this film one of the most visually distinct films of the year, a compliment I don’t take lightly. In addition, Doukyuusei is a rare BL-adaptation done right, as it focuses on the feeling and the way people fall in love, rather than pure exposition. The film gets away with (most of) the genre’s tropes, but there’s one that still irritates me. That scene involves a teacher who makes his way with the student (the cheek-raising pose) and that scene alone doesn’t sit very well with me. The film’s structure is like a vignette detailing how our two characters encounter, fall in love and how they retain their relationship in a span of a year. With only 60 minutes, it might sound like Doukyuusei doesn’t have much time, but quite the opposite is true. The film flows like a great musical piece, and the character expressions are exaggerated in an intimated fashion. The film nails the “intimacy” part, and boasts two lovely characters who are in the relationship and who are still too young to figure things out. Doukyuusei is a decent movie that will leave a smile on your face once the credit rolls.