Tag Archives: Animateka

The Box (2017): what happens when one thinks outside the box?

Dušan Kastelic, primarily an illustrator and comic books artist, first broke into the scene of animated films in 2004 with his short film Animator’s Animated Autobiography. From there on he continued working as an animator with films such as Chicory ‘n’ Coffee (2008) and Wall of Signs (2009), and while his whole filmography is very much impressive, this year’s The Box / Celica marks his best work yet.

The Box, a beautiful yet unapologetically dark 3D animation is set in a small box (or a prison cell, as the Slovenian title would suggest) where a group of flat-headed people is fast asleep. Unwilling to look around and see their tragic and miserable situation, they surely are as good as blind as they sleep and snore through life with their eyes wide shut. Yet they are not just unable to see – they are also unable to move, as their legs are rooted into the grounds, intertwined with strong and resilient wooden roots that keep them “in their place”. They are in a box alright – in a box of their mind that prevents them from thinking, behaving or even looking any different from what is expected, of what is considered “normal” and “acceptable”. They seem content with their blindness, lack of freedom and inability to move – just as most people are content with not standing out, instead sharing their exact worldviews, values and opinions. Not thinking for yourself is always the easiest option for which the majority opts for, as anything else all too quickly results in harsh judgements, rejection, loss of friends and general nonacceptance. And just as most people these creatures are perfectly happy about being stuck in one place, as they convince themselves there is no place better than the comfort of their home, their country, of them being surrounded by people who share their language, values, nationality, race, sexuality, religious beliefs and political orientation. They are miserable creatures, no doubt, but unable or too afraid to change anything about their situation, or themselves. Or perhaps they are just too far down the road of self-denial to truly comprehend the extent of their miserable and gloomy existence.

However, this sameness and unanimity in being stuck and unable to see soon gets shaken up with a sudden appearance of a little guy whose eyes are glowing with curiosity and hunger for life – and who doesn’t care much about behaving as expected. He is happy, lively and eager to try new things, but this obviously means that he’s disrupting the alienated, disconnected and passively accepted reality by his relentless goofiness and attempts to break free. He is thinking outside the box, and as life would have it, his flat-headed co-habitants are not too happy about it.

People all too often get annoyed by those who stand out, who act, dress or think differently, who are unwilling to conform. By people who are different, who stand their grounds, who speak up when they are not expected to and are unapologetically themselves, no matter the situation. And this little guy is no different – as any child, he is looking at the world in front of him as full of possibilities, full of things to learn and experience. Yet we are not meant to be this way, we are not expected to reach for the stars, experience new things and change our existing situation – at least not without provoking and infuriating some people first; people who cannot bare to think of change and living up to one’s full potential, as we should be happy with what was given to us and not wanting anything more. The older creatures therefore try to put him into his place, just as any adult, whether a parent or a teacher, does with a child when they act differently, ask too many questions, or dream of things that are supposedly too romantic, idealistic, utopian and unachievable. And yet the little guy doesn’t lose his quirkiness and sense of humour – he stays true to his peculiarity and nonconformity, even when he grows up overnight and becomes one of the adults. But if he was simply seen as an odd kid who still needs to learn how to behave inside of the box, he becomes a true social anomaly as soon as he grows up. Him being different, happy and curious about what life has to offer annoys his flat-headed neighbours to the point of mockery and aggression – and finally an absurd attempt to flatten his head, making him one of them once and for all. But just as it is hard to make people see the truth of their life and situation, it is also hard to make people unsee once they have broken free from their mental chains and comprehended the truth around them.

People who think outside the box will always be judged, criticised and all too often rejected by people surrounding them. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop being ourselves, that we should give in to society’s expectations and keep quiet when our conscience tells us otherwise – since the life of a cheerful and spirited creature is, despite his outsider status, still more rewarding and valuable than life of a blind, boring, snoring one.

The film received its first accolades at Festival of Slovenian Film, where it won the award for best Animated Film. It recently got even further recognition at the Festival of Animated Film “Animateka”, where it won the Audience Award. I only hope for more of such success in the future, since Slovenian animated film scene deserves more support and recognition.

Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (2016)

When we first meet Rosie Ming, a tiny stick figure in Ann Marie Fleming’s animated feature Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming, she is a beret-wearing twenty-something Francophile who still lives with her overprotective Chinese grandparents. But as any youngster at her age, she is getting restless and tired of her quiet and uneventful Vancouver life. As an aspiring artist, it comes as no surprise that her severe case of wanderlust is predominantly directed towards Paris, a city of artists and poets she romanticizes in her poems. She eventually decides to self-publish her ambitious effort at poetry in a smartly titled book “My Eye Full – Poems of a Person Who Has Never Been to France”, and soon enough, she receives an invitation to present her work at an international poetry festival. Only it isn’t an invitation to the country she worships and idolizes, but to someplace least expected: Shiraz, Iran. Much to her grandparent’s disapprovement, she packs her black chador, learns some basic Persian and boards the plane – and what follows is a lovely and charming animated story about expanding one’s worldview, discovering one’s identity and finding one’s artistic voice.

We don’t know much about Rosie’s heritage as we tag along for the drive towards Iran – except her being half-Chinese, something her small slants of eyes immediately suggest. Yet her eyes are not the only thing about Rosie that is drawn with astonishing simplicity, since her whole body is nothing more than a stick. Compared to the other characters, drawn in a lively, full-bodied, Cubistic design, she is still a naïve, not yet a fully formed girl, who has much to learn about world’s history, her heritage, her poetic origins and herself.

The way her grand-parents react to her announcement about going to Iran, resonates perfectly with current state of xenophobia and islamophobia that reigns over contemporary Western society. And yet, as the film’s narrative slowly unfolds before our eyes, we get to discover a much more complex story that is hidden in the background. What is perhaps this film’s greatest attribute is how it manages to tell a beautiful personal story about Iranian revolution, war, dissidence, political imprisonment and Iranian diaspora, through which it makes us understand Iranian cultural and political history. And with that, it manages to vanquish all prejudices against this rich and exquisite ancient culture.

The animation is vibrant and visually rich, as the director Ann Marie Fleming hosted a whole palette of fellow animators who helped her create a dynamic tapestry of different styles and visual approaches, each of them creating a different tale about history, myths and poetic language of this magical, yet strangely unknown Persian culture. Her minimalistic figure is absorbing these otherworldly and mythical lessons about history, art and life throughout the entire film, and even if she doesn’t get visually fuller or bigger, she still experiences a personal and artistic growth, as she transforms herself and her art through a trip of self-discovery.

However, there is also a deeper message in this animated feature than a simple nod to the idea of how meeting and absorbing new and different cultures makes as better people. Underneath it all there is also a simple, yet most essential message for these divisive, alienating times: no matter where we are coming from, what is our background, culture or nationality, we are all human and therefore more or less the same. We may speak different languages, but poetry simply transcends those linguistic differences; just as basic human connections should transcend our differences in race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality. Through poetry we get to feel another person’s love, sorrow, hope for a better future. Let it be English, German, Chinese or Persian, the meaning and emotions are the same, even if the sounds differ. We are more alike than we are (or ever were) different, and we should therefore strive towards learning about and accepting different cultures, myths, arts and traditions, as we may learn a great deal about ourselves in the process.

Perhaps the reason Rosie stays a stick is because there is still so much more to learn and understand about the world. Since there are still continents, people and cultures that are waiting to be discovered, embraced and appreciated in all its uniqueness; waiting to be liberated, once and for all, of all the stereotypes, preconceptions and prejudices that form our current eurocentric views.

window-horses-2016-001-rosie-and-map-of-iran

Reviewed at International Festival of Animated Film “Animateka” in Ljubljana, Slovenia.