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Director: Priit Pärn
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Breakfast on the Grass © Priit PärnMade directly after ‘Time Out’, ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ is one of Priit Pärn’s most powerful films.

It’s also one of his most difficult, and its message is at times hard to decipher. Pärn doesn’t tell straightforward stories, and much remains unexplained. Most importantly, it’s one of the few films showing insight in Eastern European life under the communist oppression. Its atmosphere is gloomy, its graphic style crude and scratchy, its humor dark, and its surrealism disturbing.

In ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ we follow four people, two men and two women, who struggle in their daily life. The first, Anna, strongly feels she’s an outcast in the society. She’s not really part of the system, and misses out on its benefits, as exemplified by her search for rare apples. The second, Georg, imagines himself a playboy, but reality is harder. In pursuit of a suit, with which he can fulfill his playboy dreams he has to go through a grind of corruption. Everyone wants something rare in exchange for offered service. Berta has lost her face as soon she became a mother. She only regains it when she finds the attention of a man. And finally, Eduard shrinks when he needs a paper signed from a very high official. Luckily he gets help from a female friend…

Also starring in these stories is an anonymous artist, who is constantly followed by a flock of crows or dragged around by two state officials. A clearer statement of oppression is hard to find in any Soviet film.

In the end, the four people succeed in their aim, and together they go to a park, where they form a life tableau of Edouard’s Manet’s painting ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe‘ (1863) which lends its name to the film’s title. This hopeful statement of beauty, freedom and art is as quickly dismantled, however, and the final shot is for the artist, whose arm is smacked by a steam roller…

Like few other films ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ shows what life is like in an oppressed state, where food is scarce, where bureaucracy and corruption run freely, and where the role you play is more important than your personal preferences. Even though the Glasnost was in full flight in 1987, it’s a wonder such a dark accusation was possible in the Soviet Union, of which Estonia was then still part.

Watch ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Âle Abreu
Release Date: September 20, 2013
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

O menino e o mundo © Âle AbreuIt seems that with their growing economies the BRIC countries enter a new creative era, in which costly projects like animated features are now possible. Especially Brazil is a surprising new country from which unique and distinct animation films sprout.

In 2013 the Holland Animation Film Festival had shown the ambitious ‘Uma História de Amor e Fúria‘, this year it’s the charming film ‘O menino e o mundo’ (The Boy and the World). Surprisingly, given the extremely different animation styles, the two features have more in common than one would expect.

According to its director Âle Abreu* the idea of ‘O menino e o mundo’ was conceived when the little boy character suddenly appeared in his notes when studying Latin American protest music of the last hundred years. The film tells about this little boy growing up in the countryside, near the jungle, who goes to seek his father, who has left for the city to work. On his trip he discovers the real world that is Brazil, far from his idyllic place in the hills. He meets cotton pickers, people in the cotton industry, and even discovers how cotton is shipped to some futuristic cities (vaguely resembling the US) to be made into clothes, which are shipped back to Brazil to be sold at ridiculous prices.

I say Brazil, but Abreu insists that this story is the story of practically every Latin American country, or even every third world country emerging from a dark dictatorial past and now getting caught up in the World Economy. Indeed, the film’s world may be one great fantasy,  with vehicles like animals, towns like mountains, and great futuristic cities in the sky. Yet, what happens in this world is instantly recognizable to people all over the world,

Meanwhile, the film clearly shows the grand effects of the global economy on the lives of ordinary and poor people. Without reservation Abreu shows us cotton pickers being fired because they are old and sick, workers working ridiculously long hours in hot industries to produce cotton, only to be replaced by a machine in the end. We watch poor people living in favelas (slums), while advertisements on the streets and on television produce images of a happy life they’ll never be able to reach. We watch people who demand more freedom being oppressed by military police, in a particular powerful sequence in which a colorful bird of freedom is crushed by a black bird of oppression, etc.

It’s this focus on social injustice that ‘O menino e o mundo’ shares with ‘Uma História de Amor e Fúria’. Unlike the latter film, however, Abreu’s film never becomes too heavy-handed, because we keep on seeing this world through the eyes of a child. To achieve this, Abreu uses a wonderfully naive style resembling children’s drawings and pastel crayons. All images are drenched in imagination and wonder, even those of the city and the oppressive forces, whose tanks look like large elephants. When the boy approaches the city, more and more magazine clippings are added to the colorful images. Abreu says he wanted to tell a tale about freedom, so he wanted to have freedom during the making of this film, too. He says: “A director should listen to the voice of his film, and listen to where the film wants to go“.

The result is an absolutely gorgeously looking film, simply bursting in color and fantasy. The animation, too, is superb, especially when considering that most of it was done in Photoshop. According to Abreu the drawings were then printed, filmed, and imported in After Effects for compositing. Moreover, the whole film was made with a very small crew. Nevertheless, the makers have reached a high quality by any standards.

To tell his story Abreu uses no dialogue. Yes, we hear people speak, but in a language that is constructed of Portuguese words spoken out backwards. Indeed, the voice actors had to act and sing in this backward language. However, in no way comprehensible dialogue is missed, for Abreu is perfectly capable of storytelling by images alone. Added to the mix is the cheerful score by Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat, which is a perfect match to the colorful images. According to Abreu, even the sounds of nature are made by musical means, like hand claps for rain.

‘O menino e o mundo’ is a magical film of sheer delight, deserving to be shown everywhere in the world. And unlike American films, it doesn’t shun the big questions our world needs to answer. For this bravery alone, it deserves a large audience.

Watch the trailer for ‘O menino e o mundo’ and tell me what you think:

* Quotations from Abreu are taken from his introduction and Q&A at the screening of his film at the Holland Animation Film Festival, March 20, 2014.

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