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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Comparative Review: Tough topics in Croatian competition at Animafest

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- We look at how Croatian animators treat some difficult themes through various approaches in the Animafest Zagreb competition

GoCritic! Comparative Review: Tough topics in Croatian competition at Animafest
Dungeon Artist by Davor Međurečan

Menstruation, euthanasia, depression, war... not everyone is happy to talk about uncomfortable topics such as these. However, some young Croatian filmmakers feel it’s their responsibility to visualise difficult and sometimes taboo subjects, as was evident in the works featured in the Croatian Film Competition at Animafest Zagreb 2019.

The protagonist of The M by Karla Skok is surprised by the sudden arrival of her period as she commutes on a tram. Once at her destination, she discovers she has no tampons or sanitary towels in her bag. This marks the beginning of a rather absurd and funny mission, filled with countless obstacles. Simple, black-and-white, 2D computer animation visualises the fears of the protagonist, who’s convinced that everyone can see she is on her period. People stare at her and an imagined red waterfall of blood bursts through her trousers several times. Skok even manages to insert a parodic reference to Kubrick's The Shining in this film that is less than three minutes long in total. It’s a very light-hearted and humorous film that women will easily relate to, and which men will maybe find rather educational.

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Veteran animator Joško Marušić's Euthanasia addresses the highly controversial topic of assisted dying. His 2D drawn animation film is about a doctor who has to decide whether a patient will live or die. An old man lies in his hospital bed. His body, unable to eat or breathe on its own, is connected to a multitude of machines. The man offers the doctor everything he has if he will only euthanise him, but the latter refuses. The patient begins to be sick, vomiting cascades; his faeces overflows from the bed and his limbs become detached, zapping around the room. His heartbeat, however, remains unchanged. The doctor is faced with what’s probably the most difficult decision of his career: when does death really begin? Although euthanasia is a difficult topic to broach, Marušić visualises the matter admirably in a bitterly humorous and colourful animation, whose rendering is sometimes reminiscent of the rubber hose style that dominated American animation in the 1920s. 

Euthanasia by Joško Marušić

The aforementioned films are quite old-fashioned in style and in their use of humour. Both The M and Euthanasia, produced by Zagreb Film, are rather funny cartoons. They clearly hark back to the animated films of the 1970s and 1980s, which emanated from the globally influential Zagreb School of Animated Film and were mostly produced by the same company.

A Dungeon Artist and Scream, by contrast, are animated films of a more artistic nature. Davor Međurečan's A Dungeon Artist is a 2D multi-media film about a man yearning for freedom. He’s imprisoned within his own mental dungeon and the only way out is through artistic expression. However, whenever the man stops dancing, singing or acting, he immediately finds himself back in his dungeon. One day, a girl knocks on his door. It appears to be his daughter, who leads her father outside. The elegant and highly artistic black-and-white animation changes abruptly into live-action images, which are supposed to represent a colourful happy ending, contrasting sharply with the minimalistic animation of the protagonist’s depressing inner world. However, following on from the film’s accomplished animation style, the low-quality home video disappoints, undermining the beauty behind the idea of a daughter saving her father from his own personal dungeon.

Scream by Petra Balekić

Petra Balekić's Scream is an animated music video for the eponymous jazz composition by Lada Obradovic. Here, a story of love at a time of war is soberly animated by way of 2D computer images. He appears to be a soldier sent to war, she his partner who stays behind, reading his letters, looking at photos and waiting for his return. Following his arrival at the front, a cluster of white tents appear against a grey background. Birds turn into planes, bombs fall down: the war has begun. The drawings often move to the rhythm of the jazz music so that in Scream the war is almost depicted as if it were a dance. It’s up to the viewer to decide where in the storyline the images should be positioned: at the beginning of the video, it’s quite clear that the man leaves his partner to go to war. However, once they’re separated, the two are then shown together a number of times. Is this a literal reunion, or could it be a dream, a desire, wishful thinking? These images can be interpreted in several ways, much like the ending of the film.

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