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GOCRITIC! Animateka 2022

GoCritic! Review: L’idee


- An in-depth look at Czech artist Berthold Bartosch’s pioneering 1932 short which screened at the opening of Animateka Ljubljana

GoCritic! Review: L’idee
L’idee by Berthold Bartosch

Berthold Bartosch’s pioneering 1932 short L’idee screened at the opening ceremony of Animateka last week. Thanks to its mesmerizing technique, the film is commonly cited to have inspired many animators to enter filmmaking.

As many have noted, Czech artist Bartolsch (1893 – 1968) innovated an avant-garde style and outlook within animation, which might be seen to contrast Disney’s more commercially oriented amusements at the time. Known for his anti-war stance, Bartolsch improved certain techniques, allowing for greater detail within animation, and experimented with multi-plane cameras. He used this technique successfully while working in league with Lotte Reiniger and Carl Koch on The Adventures of Prince Achmed. L’idee is the only work by Bartosch to have survived the Nazis, who destroyed his other films.

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Based on the 1920 wordless novel of the same name by Flemish artist Frans Masereel, L’idee begins with a text inviting us to contemplate the film’s central theme: ‘Men live and die for a given idea, but ideas are immortal. We can pursue them, we can judge them, we can forbid them, we can sentence them to death, but ideas live on in the spirits of men.’

The film is very complex in its simplicity. It interprets and personifies this ultimate idea as a naked woman. The idea is born before the eyes of just one man, who sends his abstract idea out into the world, which reaches new people and causes excitement and disruption in the masses, and suspicion and fear among authorities who try to contain and censor it.

L’idee expanded the possibilities of animation, with Bartosch – working in a tiny room above a Paris cinema – using black-tinted glass, smears of soap, and other materials, and creating multiple layers of superimposed animation. The film was shot on a transparent table with light from below. The movie consisted of more than 50,000 frames, many of them involving up to 18 layers of superimposition.

The movie is still fresh, educational and challenging today, 90 years after it was first seen. One of the film’s more immortal moments is when the naked truth of the idea shocks authorities into getting it clothed.

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