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Directors: Laurent Boileau & Jung
Release Date:
June 4, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

One of the striking developments of the 21st century was the advent of the animated documentary. Of course, the genre is much, much older, arguably going back to Winsor McCay’s ‘The Sinking of the “Lusitania“’ (1918), but the animated documentary film remained a scarcity throughout the 20th century, and never went beyond the length of shorts.

All that changed with the highly influential Israeli film ‘Waltz with Bashir’ (2008), arguably the very first feature length animated documentary. Subsequent films of this type often told personal stories, if not only told with, then at least augmented with animation, e.g. ‘Tatsumi’ (2011), ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’ (2015, with added animation by Hisko Hulsing) or ‘Tower’ (2016).

‘Couleur de peau: miel’ is such a personal story. The film is based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Belgian author Jung, who is of Korean descent, and who was adopted at a young age. His story is told with an all too prominent voice over, and in live action, depicting the present Jung, now 44 years old, visiting Korea, with the use of 8mm films shot by his father in the 1970s, and with computer animation, depicting several of Jung’s childhood memories.

The film succeeds in showing the troubled existence of adopted children, and their struggling with their identity. Jung, for example, doesn’t feel entirely part of the family, and indeed, his parents sometimes snap that they see him differently from their own natural children. Worse, he feels uprooted, feeling neither completely Belgian nor Korean, and feeling alienated from both. This leads to a troubled youth, with Jung being far from a good boy. This unfortunately makes it rather more difficult to identify with him, for he often acts as a real jerk, being full of mischief, for example falsifying his school report.

The French title literally translates as ‘Skin Color: Honey’, and the animated sequences certainly use yellows, together with browns and grays as their principal coloring. Jung also has some dire memories of his early Korean days, which are rendered in more depressing grays than the Belgian sequences. These colors dominate the beautiful, two-dimensional background art.

For the animation the film makers have resorted to 3D computer animation, because it was cheaper. Unfortunately, it also looks cheaper, hampering an otherwise fine film. The characters are a strange hybrid of drawn images projected on three-dimensional models, and never become convincing characters. Instead, they look like wandering marionettes, uncannily devoid of life. In fact, the character animation is so ugly to look at that the emotions of Jung’s memories never really come off. I certainly wonder what a better film ‘Couleur de peau: miel’ could have been, if the film makers had made in traditional 2D animation… Now, we’re stuck with a film that certainly is interesting, but falls short in moving its audience.

Watch the trailer for ‘Couleur de peau: miel (Approved for Adoption)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Couleur de peau: miel'(Approved for Adoption) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Roman Klochkov
Release Date:
2012
Rating:
 ★
Review:

In ‘Natasha’ a huge Russian bear called Nicolaï lives in a fridge in a Zoo in Belgium as an illegal immigrant. One day another Russian bear called Gennady arrives, who turns out to be the new husband of Nicolaï’s former love, Natasha.

In ‘Natasha’ Klochkov apparently tries to say something about immigration, but his message is lost in a rambling story that leaves the viewer completely flat. In fact, there hardly is a story, but certainly a lot of dialogue. Klochkov’s cartoony style doesn’t help, either, although Nicolaï himself is wonderfully designed and animated, emphasizing his enormous size – Nicolaï literally doesn’t fit in. Also appealing are Klochkov’s bold ink strokes, which turn virtually abstract during the crowd scenes. But these don’t rescue a film, which is too unsure and too dialogue-rich to entertain, let alone move.

Watch ‘Natasha’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vimeo.com/108782575

‘Natasha’ is available on the DVD ‘Framed – De beste Vlaamse korte animatiefilms 2010-2015’

Director: Gert Driessen
Release Date:
October 3, 2012
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

In this short animation film a man who has recently lost his wife, draws her with chalk on the wall. The chalk wife takes him into her chalk world full of memories.

‘Crayon d’amour’ is a gentle film, but hampered by rather ugly computer animation. The simple, cartoony character design doesn’t really match the 3D animation, nor the far more realistic settings. In fact, the traditional animation of the chalk scenes, not by director Gert Driessen himself, but by Florian de Hoes, Cederic Neven and Olivier vanden Busche, is far more impressive. One certainly wonders why not the whole film was made that way. Nevertheless, the 3D scenes have an attractive color design, consisting mostly of cardboard browns.

Watch ‘Crayon d’amour’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Crayon d’amour’ is available on the DVD ‘Framed – De beste Vlaamse korte animatiefilms 2010-2015’

Directors: Emma de Swaef & Marc James Roels
Release Date:
January 28, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

One of the most striking animation films to come from Belgium in the 2010s was ‘Oh Willy…’ by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels. The film immediately catches attention with its soft puppets and sets – everything is fluffy and velvety, even a rotting carcass. But ‘Oh Willy’ also impresses with its poetic way of story telling.

‘Oh Willy…’ tells about a middle-aged man who returns to the naturalist colony of his youth to visit his dying mother. The man is lonely and withdrawn, and clearly unable to blend in with the naturalists, even if he wants to. One night he gets lost in the woods, which sets him to an all new adventure…

‘Oh Willy…’ uses no dialogue, but the soft puppets breath a lot of animation. Moreover, De Swaef and Roels know how to show, don’t tell, and they leave it to the viewer to connect the dots between the scenes. Interestingly, some of the scenes are pretty raw, even if they’re rendered in the fluffiest animation conceivable. From these scenes one can guess why the man feels so awkward and lost without his mother.

True, when summarized, the story of ‘Oh Willy…’ makes little sense, but as told by De Swaef amd Roels in their fluffy animation it absolutely accounts for a heart-warming experience. ‘Oh Willy…’ is one of those films showing the unique power of animation, and it certainly belongs to the best shorts of the 2010s. And yet, in 2018 the duo topped it with their 44 minute tour-de-force ‘Ce Magnifique Gâteau!’ (This Magnificent Cake!), employing the same soft visual style, combined with brutal scenes, and poetic story telling to dive into the dark corners of Belgium’s colonial past.

Watch ‘Oh Willy…’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Oh Willy…’ is available on the DVD ‘Framed – De beste Vlaamse korte animatiefilms 2010-2015’

Directors: Alain Gagnol & Jean-Loup Felicioli
Release Date: September 12, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

2015 was a good year for French animation. June already saw the release of the great movies ‘Avril et le monde truqué’ (April and the Extraordinary World) and ‘Tout en haut du monde’ (Long Way North), but these were topped in September by the Franco-Belgian production ‘Phantom Boy’.

‘Phantom Boy’ was created by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, who have been working together at the French Folimage studio since the mid-nineties, and who brought us the entertaining feature film ‘Une vie de chat’ (A Cat in Paris) in 2010. But compared to the earlier feature scenarist Gagnol adds an extra layer of depth to ‘Phantom Boy’, because this is not only an adventure film, but it also tells about a boy suffering from a deadly disease.

‘Phantom Boy’ is a children’s film set in New York, and tells about Léo, an eleven years old boy, who’s seriously ill (he’s probably suffering from cancer, but the exact illness is never revealed) and hospitalized. In the hospital Léo discovers that his spirit can leave his body and look around, encountering other spirits while doing so.

During one of these wanderings, he encounters the spirit of Alex Tanguy, an injured policeman. Tanguy is after a master villain, the “man with the deformed face”, who threatens to shut down the whole of New York with a computer virus if not delivered a huge sum of money. Unfortunately, Tanguy is stuck at the hospital, but he discovers Léo’s spirit can snoop around for him. Thus, Léo can help miss Delauney, a feisty journalist, who’s also on the villain’s trail. There’s a catch, however, Léo’s spirit must return to Léo’s body in time, or Léo will certainly die…

The film is thus a very nice mix of adventure, in which Léo’s superpower is used to a great effect, and drama, because the film makers never lose sight of Léo’s illness, and show the ails, fears, and sorrows of Léo and his family, as well. Thus, the film is not only exciting, but knows some really moving scenes, too.

Nevertheless, the film never becomes heavy- handed, and in fact is often very funny. Especially the master villain’s two helpers are great comic relief, but the best gag goes to the master villain himself, who several times tries to tell the story behind is deformation, only to get cut short all the time.

The film has a very pleasant visual style, courtesy of Jean-Loup Felicioli, who has given the film a very idiosyncratic take on the Franco-Belgian comic strip tradition. Typical for Felicioli is a strongly graphical and very angular style – not a thing is straight in this film, and the slant eyes of most characters. The man with the deformed face is practically cubist, with his multi-colored and checkered face. The color palette is warm and appealing, and the animation uses the jittery style often encountered in independent shorts.

Films like this prove that traditional animation is far from dead (‘Phantom Boy’ was even drawn on paper, and hand colored, even though the final composition was done on the computer), and in fact allows for a less generic and more adventurous style than contemporary computer animation. I’ll even go that far to name ‘Phantom Boy’ the best animated feature of 2015, despite serious competition from both ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ and ‘Inside Out’.

Watch the trailer for ‘Phantom Boy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Phantom Boy’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Nicole van Goethem
Release Date: 1985
Rating:
Review:

Een Griekse tragedie © Nicole van Goethem‘A Greek Tragedy’ won an Academy Award and the first prize at the Annecy Inernational Film Festival. I remain puzzled why.

‘A Greek Tragedy’ was Van Goethem’s first own film. It’s a classic gag cartoon featuring three living, scarcely clad female caryatids supporting an old ruin. When the ruin crumbles, and they’re finally free, we watch them dancing into the distance.

The designs are trite, the synthesizer music is ugly, the humor is poor, and the story forgettable. If this short has a hidden, perhaps feminist message, it’s lost on me. And then to imagine, that one of the short’s competitors for the Oscars was ‘Luxo jr.’, a far more convincing and rewarding film in every respect!

Watch ‘Een Griekse tragedie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Een Griekse tragedie’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Rémi Vandenitte
Release Date: June 8, 2013
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Betty's Blues © Rémi Vandenitte‘Betty’s Blues’ is Vandenitte’s ode to the country blues, and its origins in the South of the United States.

The film is a frame story, with two distinct styles. The framing story is told in stop-motion. We watch a young black blues singer perform in a small and empty bar near a metro line (we hear the cars rattling by from time to time). The singer tells his audience the story of Betty’s Blues. Enter the drawn animation.

The story itself is about a blues singer who loses his girl to the K.K.K. and becomes blind himself. In return for his blindness he receives the gift to make everybody dance to his guitar playing. When he meets the K.K.K. again, his revenge is sweet. The film ends with the audience shocked with horror by this rather violent story.

Both Vandenitte’s stop-motion and 2D animation are of a high quality. His stop-motion puppets have a delightfully gritty texture, and Vandenitte’s animation of guitar playing is wonderfully convincing. In the 2D sequences Vandenitte makes use of a technique simulating wood carving, combined with bold and evocative coloring, sometimes mimicking the color palette of that great cinematic ode to the musical South, ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’. The result is a gorgeous film, if a little shallow in the end.

Watch the teaser for ‘Betty’s Blues’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date:
1968
Rating★★★★★
Review:

Sirene © Raoul ServaisIn a sinister harbor, where cranes behave like giant dinosaurs and where pterodactyli fly a young flute player brings a mermaid to life. Unfortunately, the mermaid is captured by one of the cranes and dropped to death.

‘Sirene’ is a beautiful, surrealistic film with its own creepy and somber atmosphere. Luckily, there’s also space for some dark humor when the authorities arrest an innocent fisherman and when a zoo and a hospital argue about the mermaid’s body.  ‘Sirene’ definitely among Servais’s best films, arguably only equaled by ‘To Speak or not to Speak (1970) and ‘Harpya‘.

Watch ‘Sirene’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date: 1979
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Harpya © Raoul ServaisA man rescues a harpy from a man who strangles her. He takes her home, but with disastrous results, because he soon discovers that the harpy eats all his food…

‘Harpya’ is a fantastic surreal film, which makes great use of a mixture of animation, live action and pixillation to create a totally unique atmosphere. The film is both funny and uncanny, and its story is Servais’s best since ‘Sirene’ (1968).

With ‘Harpya’ Raoul Servais made his most enduring work. It’s his all-time masterpiece, and a central film in his oeuvre, defining his mature style.

Watch ‘Harpya’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date: 1973
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pegasus © Raoul Servais‘Pegasus’ tells about a lonely blacksmith who lives in the countryside.

The blacksmith has a love for horses, but unfortunately his surroundings are totally devoid of them. So he builds a horse head out of metal to worship. Unfortunately, the horse head appears to have an ability to grow and reproduce, surrounding his house like a forest.

‘Pegasus’ is a beautiful and surreal film. Unfortunately, it ends quite abruptly, leaving behind a sense that not everything has been said, yet.

Watch ‘Pegasus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Raoul Servais
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Operation X-70 © Raoul ServaisOperation X-70 is a half silly, half scary short by Belgian film maker Raoul Servais.

It tells about a poisonous gas, which turns people into spiritual beings. The gas is advertised as a ‘clean weapon’, because it doesn’t kill people. When the gas is accidentally bombed on the Benelux (Belgium, Holland and Luxemburg), it turns people into angels.

The film impresses with its weird idea, its dark and gloomy atmosphere, and its anti-war message. However, like Raoul Servais’s earlier film ‘Goldframe’ (1968), the film suffers from an all too present dialogue. In the end the short’s images are more lasting than the film itself is.

Watch ‘Operation X-70’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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