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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Comparative Review: Memory in Animafest Zagreb Shorts

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- Our German participant takes a look at how the topic of memory is treated in three films screened in the Animafest Zagreb Grand Competition for Short Films

GoCritic! Comparative Review: Memory in Animafest Zagreb Shorts
I'm Going Out for Cigarettes by Osman Cerfon

Every moving image is a memory come to life. Filmmakers go to great lengths to dig up individual and collective memories. They bury themselves in archive materials, they inhabit their protagonists’ worlds until these worlds become their own, and they turn their guts inside out, offering up their traumatic wounds. Though the excavation of memory is a task performed by filmmakers across genres and forms, the medium of animation is a particularly well-suited space for this kind of unearthing. In animation, every memory needs to be brought into existence – that is, brought to life with intent - not only allowing for a vast array of topics, but also for a wide range of directorial approaches and styles.

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In this year’s edition of Animafest Zagreb, blocks 1 and 2 of the Grand Competition for Short Films were filled to the brim with memories, with three movies in particular placing a special focus on the construction of memory: Ivana Bošnjak and Thomas Johnson's Imbued Life (Croatia), Moïa Jobin-Paré's No Objects (Canada) and Osman Cerfon's I’m Going Out for Cigarettes (France).

For Cerfon, memory is a phantom with a bodily presence. Twelve-year-old Jonathan lives with his older sister and his mom in an apartment that’s also inhabited by different men with the same face and an ape-like, instinct-driven demeanor, who are part of Jonathan’s daily routine. When he drinks Coke, the man crouched in the cupboard demands a glass as well; when Jonathan is asked by his single mum to take out the washing, the man curled in the washing machine sniffs his sister’s undies. Uncoincidentally, the absent father is a looming presence in the film, lurking in the surrealist Magritte-like photos on the wall: portraits without faces. Slowly and painfully, the siblings learn the hard facts of life - passion becomes loneliness and silly games give way to a sobering seriousness. In attributing loss to an actual male body, Cerfon grants memory a visceral quality and acknowledges its ominous omnipresence – it’s quite simply everywhere, even in the smallest of chores. The fact that I’m Going Out for Cigarettes borders on sentimentality but never actually crosses the line is achieved via its approach. It’s executed in a style that recalls animated TV series of the 90s – imagine a toned-down version of Beavis and Butthead without the constant snickering – and the trope of “going out for cigarettes” is referenced with a wink. The men, as Jonathan will discover, aren’t there to stay if handled in the right way. Memory, the film posits, manifests itself as trauma only when repressed.

(Imbued Life by Ivana Bošnjak and Thomas Johnson)

By contrast, in Imbued Life, memory is constantly brought to the surface, and quite literally so. The film is a collaboration between the model-makers and animators Johnson and Bošnjak, who were on the animation team of Eva Cvijanović's 2017 Berlinale and Animafest prizewinner A Hedgehog’s Home. Imbued Life uses a realistic form of puppet stop-motion and follows a young taxidermist who works on animals and then takes them back to their natural habitats. When skinning the animals, she also cuts their brains open and extracts rolls of photographic film, whose images, incidentally, act as blurry, bloody transitions, accompanied by an indecipherable, animalistic soundscape and punctuating the narrative unfolding within this work. In an attempt to get closer to the animals and their past lives, the taxidermist takes the rolls to a photographer to get them developed. Once she’s seen the photos, and subsequently fallen asleep, flowers, trees and bushes begin to invade her apartment. Imbued Life seems to argue for the right to memory of both humans and animals alike, with its nostalgia-inducing analogue photography and slide projector which are used as stand-ins for the concept of memory as applied to all human and non-human existence. However, we never actually see what the taxidermist sees – in interpreting the film, we make an ongoing attempt to understand it – which contrasts sharply with the personification at play in I’m Going Out for Cigarettes. Memory in Imbued Life, therefore, remains ever elusive; it can never be put into pictures and can only be experienced on a personal and individual level.

(No Objects by Moïa Jobin-Paré)

No Objects, the second film by Jobin-Paré, whose debut 4min15 au révélateur won the Offlimits Award at Annecy in 2016, takes the concept of abstract memory even further. It’s a mixed-media film which uses images and sounds of scratching on photographs, as well as the original sound recordings of the photography session, all of which are assembled in an innovative way. The result is wonderfully surprising as we see people performing activities, but without the objects which usually define those activities. We’re either left to guess what the people are doing or simply to enjoy them as new, intimate gestures where the memory of the former activity becomes visualized through its absence.

If I’m going out for cigarettes concerns itself with the visualization of memory and Imbued Life presents memory as elusive, one could say that Jobin-Paré’s interest is to share the process of memory (re)construction with the audience, turning them into fellow storytellers who breathe life into an idea that was inanimate but one frame earlier.

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