This year’s Animation Show of Shows amuses more than astonishes | Movie Review | Chicago Reader

This year’s Animation Show of Shows amuses more than astonishes 

The 15 international selections use a variety of forms, from pencil to clay animation.

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click to enlarge Weekends

Weekends

The selections in this year's Animation Show of Shows (curated, as always, by Ron Diamond) tend to be more amusing than inspired; my favorite works in the program provided me with momentary delight rather than lasting astonishment. The most representative piece may be Business Meeting, a pencil-drawn short from Brazil that delivers an absurdist send-up of corporate conferences. Running a little under two minutes, Business Meeting presents a distinctive style, serves up some laughs, makes its point, then promptly ends. Less funny but no less terse is the German short Carlotta's Face, which conveys in five minutes what it's like to live with face-blindness. Codirectors Valentin Riedl (who's also a neuroscientist) and Frédéric Schuld incorporate into their 2-D animation drawings made by a girl with this mental condition, and the images provide deeper insight than the poetic narration.

The lengthier pieces in the program vary in degrees of success. Age of Sail, perhaps the most ambitious selection, tells a tale of a ship captain and a female passenger lost at sea in 1900. The storytelling is moderately engaging, but I found the clunky 3-D animation distracting; additionally, director John Kahrs crams so many climaxes into the 12-minute running time that the piece feels monotonous. By contrast, the 15-minute, dialogue-free Weekends is more modest both narratively and visually, but far more entertaining on the whole. Comprised of hand-drawn images, it presents short, witty scenes of a grade-school-aged boy spending time with each of his divorced parents in 1980s Toronto. As the short progresses, director Trevor Jimenez (who based the short on personal memories) drifts into the boy's dream life, showing how events from his daily life turn terrifying in his subconscious. The result is a wry if not especially novel portrait of a child of divorce.

The piece that came closest to bowling me over was Grands Canons, a stop-motion animation by French artist Alain Biet. In this work, Biet assembles realistic drawings he's made of tools, writing implements, and other everyday objects, presenting one after another in a sort of cavalcade. I marveled at the specificity and verisimilitude of Biet's art as well as the sheer multitude of drawings he's produced. Another stop-motion work, Veronica Solomon's Love Me, Fear Me, also brings together two kinds of artistry, in this case clay animation and choreography. Solomon uses shape-shifting clay figures to perform modern-style dance, and the effect is often mesmerizing. The choreography is also surprisingly dark—it makes up for the handful of saccharine shorts on the program, namely the Pixar knockoff One Small Step, about the relationship between a girl who longs to be an astronaut and the devoted father who supports her dreams.   v

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