Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 5

Convento (US) (site) + Battenburg (UK)

Battenburg was shown in yesterdays' world animation segment, but it was a good primer for Convento. This short documentary describes the present-day use of the Convento sao Francisco, an ancient building whose original purpose was to house the relics of Christs cross. Today however, after a period of dilapidation, it has become the home of Geraldine and her adult sons, Cristiaan and Lois. They're a bit.. eccentric.

Geraldine restricts herself to a few modest plaster works, and grows a few vegetables and tramps knee-deep through the pond fishing out bindweed in her spare time. Her sons while away their hours making grander artworks. Christiaan in a rather macabre way takes the skeletal remains of animals he finds and reanimates them with crude animatronics. Dotted around the grounds are some of his works, ranging from the forgettable to the brilliant. His installation sculpture made from the ancient water wheel of the old house powers a full-size animatronic mule on an endless circle around the pumping well, as real ones would have done in years gone by. Most of the materials for his works originate from the nearby dump, where all sorts of electrical goods containing electronics and motors allow these things to be made on the cheap.

Lois, as if to go one stage further is more into film, doing slightly batshit things such as persuading his long-suffering girlfriend (I presume) to put on an inflatable space suit with him and bound about like idiots. Also: singing leaves and a stuffed gibbering rabbit trussed up in armour. Yes.

Though I found the little window onto these reclusive lives distracting, and the surroundings they lived in to be very beautiful, they bothered me too much to really enjoy this film. Maybe the most telling part for me was Geraldine's admission near the end that they just don't do proper hard work like normal people, instead just arsing around making strange sculpture and crazy film. Maybe I'm a little bit jealous. 6/10

World Animation Competition 3 - Long Shorts

After last night's marathon I thought there would be loads here too, but this segment was specifically for those short films that were a bit chunkier than the others.

The Lost Town of Switez (Pol) - An interpretation of a poem by Adam Mickiewicz. A young man has an encounter with a figure in the road as he rides through the night. Stepping out of the carriage, the coachman and horses are bolt asleep. He stumbles through the forest, but he is under attack - in fact the hordes of Norman-like horsemen are shooting flaming arrows past him and towards a city, whose genteel population can only flee to their church for sanctuary. It is beautifully made, using computer graphics with a pastel watercolour effect, and the art style of the religious works of the middle ages his hallucinations evoke religious fervour to compliment the rousing orchestral choir that completes the reverie. A beautiful, wordless allegorical tale. 7.5/10

Wild Life (Can) - A young and naive gentleman ignores his stuffy fathers' wishes and heads out from the comfort of Blighty to the frontier settlements of early 20th Century Alberta. Massaging the facts as he writes back home, his biggest problems are yet to materialise as winter comes along - and they're not wussy British ones over there, either. It develops a more sombre edge to it's initial pip-pip personality, and the quirky art style fits the mood perfectly, it too changing as the story darkens. 8/10

Journey to Cape Verde (Por) - Feeling stifled and trapped, a young twentysomething packs up a backpack, leaves a note for his loved ones and quits Lisbon for a place where he can find himself. He's clearly been looking a while and now he knows - Africa, in particular the Cape Verde islands. Using primary colours and a thick black pen for the main art style, he narrates his journey retrospectively, the stylised stick-figure animation complemented by pages from his diary with pencil sketches and simple watercolours of some of the more memorable sights on his travels. A beautiful and intimate tale of becoming intentionally lost and keeping going to find a new existence, and one that gives me itchy feet. 8/10

The Monster of Nix (Bel) - Hovering around the half-hour mark, this could easily be put on the telly for a Christmas holiday treat. It's a Grimm-style tale with a bit of magic and wonder, and a little bit scary like you would expect. A boy gets a nasty surprise when his grandmother, and most of the house disappears. His village is being destroyed somehow, and buoyed on with the hope of locating her, goes to the forests, where all sorts of weird creatures come out of the shadows, some good - some not so good, and some you just aren't sure of. Some of these beings are gathering strange silver eggs, said to hold stories inside of them. But it's clear the world is being destroyed and the main story is about to end.

It's a dark fairytale, but the creepiest bit is the animation style. In the same way Madame Tutli-Putli mesmerised me a few years ago by combining stop-motion and computer effects so you couldnt see the join, this takes it a little further. I honestly couldn't tell some of the time whether it was real people in masks or computers making the characters. The faces were clearly the work of ones and zeroes, but the movement and detail looked super-real. It was compelling to watch, the only problem being that this was in the town hall, and so again the acoustics made it so some of the dialogue was difficult to follow. It's a shame, because otherwise I really enjoyed it. 8/10

Heat Wave (Fra) (review)

Using a non-linear storyline, which overlaps and goes back on itself to tell the same segment from a different point of view, Heat Wave relates the tales of several people living in a Marseilles suburb. Single mum Anne is trying to keep a secret hospital visit secret from her daughter Amélie, who in turn is struggling with how to deal with her new-found pregnancy to both her and her boyfriend, Luigi. He suddenly has a passion to leave and wants her to go wit him. Apart from this group is the quiet natured Georges, who just wants to have a quiet life and listen to his music, but things just don't seem to be going his way today. The most influential character has only a fleeting role at the start and at the end of this piece, and this whole film leads up to the defining moment where the intersection of several lives results in tragedy.

The events in each life laid bare are pretty pedestrian, but the skilful weaving of lives and time-lines creates an engaging story, and one that takes you by surprise with it's ending. For a French film it's pleasingly lacking in philosophy, too. 7.5/10

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