foreign films

Made in: Australia
Language: None (no dialogue)
Director: Van Sowerwine
Year: 2004

Synopsis: A stop-motion animated, six-minute short, this film by Van Sowerwine won a number of awards and honorable mentions at Cannes, Sundance, Sydney, and others.

Clara is a girl facing some sort of deep, psychological/emotional crisis. In her garden, a flower attacks her, someone she cares about (friend? Sister? Mother? Something symbolic?) has died and is lying in a casket, prominently displayed in the living room.

At some point she enters the kitchen, sticks her finger in a pot of boiling water (or whatever), burns it, then passes out. When she wakes up there are a bunch of ants invading her home. She goes outside to the garden again, but this time the flowers don't attack her. And then yeah, that's pretty much it.

Remarks: The film was made through the painstaking process of stop-motion animation, like the frighteningly surreal Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special that comes on every Christmas. To this day, that movie just scares the sh*t out of me.

Having had a lot of experience with stop-motion myself (click here to see one of my early films) I can say that Sowerwine does a great job with detail and set design (especially when animating the protagonist's emotions without using words). However, Clara is far creepier than Rudolph. Obviously, Sowerwine's film is not to be taken at face value. There's a lot going on below the surface, and I can't even begin to tell you what it might be as the film leaves so many open-ended questions.

My recommendation: I definitely wouldn't recommend this for mainstream animation fans. The eerie sound work and the overall nightmarish mood is just too unsettling. To be fair, I applaud Sowerwine's efforts as a filmmaker and am glad to see an independent stop-motion film win prominent awards.

However, in many ways Sowerwine's piece comes across as just another "weird" art film, like the ones I've seen too many times in film school.

Call me an insensitive brute if you want, but the themes of melancholy, depression, sadness that can't be expressed, artificiality, and disdain for middle-class suburbia have long become an empty cliché in independent film.

(2 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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