The 21st annual Animation Show of Shows, a collection of eight independent short films and two mini-documentaries from seven countries, offers a welcome reminder that in the hands of a talented artist, an animated film can make a statement as personal as a signature.
The brilliant pastel colors in Joanna Lurie’s “Le Jour Extraordinaire” (Flowing Through Wonder) from France, initially seem to play against its somber story: The inhabitants of a small village perform a funeral at sea. But the sea is enchanted, and the soul of the deceased assumes the form of a graceful jellyfish-like creature. Lurie uses CG to mimic the look of watercolor paintings in this lovely, if slightly overlong, film.
Natalia Mirzoyan uses watercolor effects to tell a very different story in Russia’s “Five Minutes to Sea.” After being pulled out of the surf by her mother, an impatient young girl must endure a five-minute timeout before going back in. As she fidgets, the vacationers around her become a kind of slow-motion sideshow. Mirzoyan captures the childhood feeling of time stretching like Silly Putty when an unreasonable adult has imposed an arbitrary punishment.
The actions of the minimal, black and white figures in Switzerland’s “Kids” by Michael Frei and Mario von Rickenbach could be read as a commentary on conformity — or an exercise in moving graphics. Either way, the imagery is never less than intriguing.
In “Récit de Soi "(Self-Narrative) from Belgium, Géraldine Charpentier mixes visual styles and media to illustrate the narrator’s account of discovering herself. As a small girl, “Lou” enjoyed running around and playing sports without a shirt. But the onset of puberty made her recognize the struggle she would face to become the boy she had always imagined herself to be. It’s a gentle but moving film that could reassure young people grappling with identity problems.
Not every film reaches the same level of excellence. Both Sam and Fred Guillaume’s “Le Renard et l’Oisille "(The Fox and the Bird) from Switzerland and Daria Kashcheeva’s “Daughter” from the Czech Republic focus on awkward parental bonds. In the former, a lonely fox tries to raise a blue chick; in the latter, a girl struggles to communicate the sorrow she feels at the death of a bird that flew into a window pane. But both films suffer from unattractive designs and stilted animation.
The surprise in the Show of Shows is Gil Alkabetz’s nutty “Rubicon” (Germany, 1997), a series of delightfully silly riffs on the old riddle, “How can a man transport a wolf, a sheep and a cabbage across a river without the wolf eating the sheep or the sheep eating the cabbage?” Alkabetz shuffles the events that occur and their pacing during many crossings, much the way a baroque musician might perform variations on a harpsichord theme. Twenty-two years after its debut, its absurd charm remains undimmed.
Viewers weary of elaborately rendered studio CG fantasies will enjoy the originality and intimacy of the highly individual films in the Animation Show of Shows.
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 13, Laemmle Glendale