Nine Nation Animation (Web Exclusive)
Reviewed by Amelia Byrnes

Bâmiyân

Bâmiyân

DVD, color and B&W, in Norwegian, Swedish, Farsi, and Chinese with English subtitles, 92 min. Titles include Deconstruction Workers by Kajsa Naess (Norway), Average 40 Matches by Burkay Doğan, Sakir Arslan (Turkey), Bâmiyân by Patrick Pleutin (France), Please Say Something by David O’Reilly (Ireland/Germany), Flatlife by Jonas Geirnaert (Belgium), She Who Measures by Veljko Popoviç (Croatia), Home Road Movies by Robert Bradbrook (United Kingdom), The Tale of How by The Blackheart Gang (South Africa), and Never Like the First Time! by Jonas Odell (Sweden). Distributed by New Yorker Films.

When Americans think about animation, most minds turn to Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks, to princesses and poorly told fairytales with edited happy endings that would make the Grimm brothers cringe with rainbow-induced illness. It’s rare that this country is exposed to the creative efforts of animators across the globe, like Sylvian Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville (2003) or Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2007). The same can be said of animated shorts, which are equally if not more lost on the American film audience. The World According to Shorts is responsible for distributing both live action and animated shorts from all over the world to those in the U.S. who might not have the chance to view them otherwise. In 2010, they released Nine Nation Animation, a collection of nine animated shorts, the origins of which range from France to Croatia and all the way to South Africa.

Though each of the shorts has its merits, there are a few that stand out as the best combinations of content and style. Patrick Pleutin’s Bâmiyân (2008) follows a Chinese monk named Xuanzang, who in 632 A.D. travels from China to the valley of Bâmiyân in Afghanistan to discover three Buddhist statues. The story is told by a child who updates the legend by revealing that the statues have since been destroyed by the Taliban. The animation of this short has the feeling of an ever-changing oil painting, one in which strokes of the brush are constantly disappearing to be replaced by others in order to convey the journey that Xuanzang takes and the destruction of the statues he discovers, further illustrating how this destruction changes the landscape that Xuanzang travels.

Another world of turmoil is depicted in Kajsa Naess’s Deconstruction Workers (2008), in which two construction workers have a deep conversation about life while the world around them falls apart. This plays on deconstructionism, a literary theory that aims to find concrete meaning in a text and attempts to “deconstruct” hegemonic ideology. Although deconstructionism is usually applied to literary texts, here we see it making the same inquiries in an animated short. One of the men questions what the meaning of life is, and the other replies that there is none. The discussion goes on uninterrupted as the two men are flung throughout this tumultuous world, finding themselves hanging from the scaffolding and walking off an elevator that’s about to be destroyed. The two men are animated using images of real men—a technique called rotoscoping—but everything else is drawn, emphasizing the question, “What is supposed to have meaning?” As these two men continue to build, everything else is torn down, protesters flood the streets, and they remain completely unaware. This question can also be applied to the short and animation itself. Are animated shorts supposed to have meaning? If so, what meaning is this short supposed to have and what concrete evidence can be found within its six minutes to reveal it?

Following suit, Home Road Movies (Robert Bradbrook, 2002) also uses rotoscoping, placing a family animated with stills and films of actual people in a computer-animated world. It tells the story of an RAF veteran, his family and their first car. Having been limited to the bus route in the past, the purchase of a car allows the father to take his wife and kids all over Europe. The narrator, one of the man’s children, realizes that as he grows older, the adventures that were so full of wonder and amazement were driven at a safe speed of thirty miles per hour. As his children grow older and leave for college, the father also watches his car break down until the engine is a hunk of rust.

Other shorts in the collection follow subjects that range from the domestic abuse between a cat and mouse, a stop-motion group of matches who betray one of their rank in order to indulge in a cigarette, and a whimsically animated battle between the dodo birds and the kraken-like creature that would see them extinct. The DVD also features the bonus filmThe Runt (Andreas Hykade, 2006) and a small blurb outlining the work of The World According to Shorts. Nine Nation Animation has put together a collection of animated shorts more than worthy of being America’s introduction to animation beyond Pixar and Dreamworks.

Amelia Byrnes is a student and a film enthusiast.

To purchase Nine Nation Animation, click here

Copyright © 2012 by Cineaste Magazine.