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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Review: Ville Neuve

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- Animafest Zagreb's Grand Competition - Feature Film included movies of very different styles and techniques, but this Canadian title stands out for its subtleness and aesthetics

GoCritic! Review: Ville Neuve

A contemplative late-night screening of Canadian filmmaker Félix Dufour-Laperrière's poetic drama Ville Neuve left audiences in melancholic longing during the 29th edition of the World Festival of Animated Film - Animafest Zagreb.

In over 80,000 hand-drawn, monochrome ink-on-paper prints (some of which were handed out to Animafest's audience!), the film tells of the tentative romantic reunion of leftist couple Emma (Johanne-Marie Tremblay) and Joseph (Robert Lalonde). Madly infatuated back when Quebec was making its first official moves towards political independence, the couple's first marriage fell apart when Quebec failed to secede. The second referendum, however, sparks fresh hope, bringing the two back together fifteen years later, where they struggle to relive the days of their youth in Ville Neuve, a rented coastal home haunted with their happiest memories.

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During the Q&A session which followed the screening at Animafest, audience members remarked upon the sense of intimacy invited by the film. Perhaps one reason for this is the quietness of the work: words largely dominate the sound design, referencing the film's original literary inspiration, Raymond Carver's "Chef's House." Or perhaps it’s the way in which the film isolates its designs within completely blank spaces. The faint figural outlines which keep Emma and Joseph apart disintegrate in a simple kiss, obliterating the visual noise of the wild political stage. People and backgrounds alike overlap, allowing the viewer to completely immerse him or herself in the simplicity of the moving image.

Despite nominal hints at intimacy, however, the shifting inks remain hopelessly distant. Even when reunited, the two rarely interact physically. The nakedness of Joseph’s body, for instance – a lone, pale outline set against the dark bedroom – highlights Emma’s refusal to touch him. She too, stares forlornly at her own body, stretched and wrinkled with time. In spite of Joseph’s sweet words, she avoids any form of sexual response. Are they in love? Or do they simply remember being in love? In muddled confusion, the two bump blindly against each other, using one another to fill their empty beds and the blank backgrounds around them.

The quiet tension between love and loneliness recalls Studio Ghibli's hidden gem, Tomomi Mochizuki's Ocean Waves (Japan, 1993). In a similar fashion, Ocean Waves follows a severely understated, budding romance between two students. Both films are lined with subtlety; affection isn’t expressed verbally, but instead suggested through character action.

But rather the fresh naivety of a high school romance, Ville Neuve’s focus is a wary reunion. In the delicate dance between ink and paper, between political and marital independence, Emma and Joseph realise that nothing is black and white. Thus arises the ultimate question: to trust or not to trust? There is no clear answer. Especially when, as Ville Neuve suggests, life exists in a series of greys.

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