________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 13 . . . . February 22, 2008


Stories & Destinies.

Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
76 min., 12 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153E 9907 134.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Renée Englot.

** /4

This National Film Board collection contains eight short films loosely tied together under the theme of "narratives that speak of the world and of life" (from the introduction to the accompanying booklet). That description can, and does, encompass just about anything. According to the introduction, these eight animated shorts have collectively won 101 awards in festivals and events worldwide. The films are not new but were all produced between 1999 and 2006; only their grouping as a collection is new. The films can be played in either English or French (with the exception of "Dehors Novembre" which is strictly French), and the booklet is completely bilingual. Each film runs between 3 and 16 minutes.

     The DVD is accompanied by a booklet which goes through the art techniques used for each film's animation. This is not; however, art for dummies. The descriptions are fairly technical and assume background knowledge of animating techniques. For a high school or post secondary class studying animation, the DVD and booklet could be a very interesting study tool.

     "Tragic Story with Happy Ending," by Regina Pessoa is suited to ages 12 and up. There is nudity in the scratched ink images, and so you'd have to judge your audience's maturity. A young girl has a heart that beats faster than anyone else's. The resulting noise of her heartbeat disturbs the townspeople and causes her shame. Eventually the townspeople get used to this noise and even move to its rhythm. The girl, who has always claimed to have a bird's heart trapped in a human body, begins to love her body and, at that moment, sprouts wings and leaves the town. Viewers are left to wonder: Was this her birth or her death?

     "Village of Idiots," by Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove, is based on the Jewish folktales of Chelm, a village reputed to be filled with fools and led by a foolish rabbi. As with many of the Chelm tales, this film highlights foolish or simple wisdom, in this case, the idea that, throughout the world, most places are essentially alike. The film, made with paper cutouts and a multiplane animation table, is suitable for ages 10 and up.

     "Conte du Quartier," by Florence Miailhe, is set in the neighbourhood around the pont de Tolbiac in Paris. The images are painted on glass and animated digitally. A lost doll moves around the urban neighbourhood passing from character to character in this wordless story. The characters eventually come together in the climax of the action. Viewing could lead to an interesting discussion attempting to put together the storyline and to explicate the symbolism. Be aware that the billboards in the background show women in various stages of undress. Suitable for ages 14 and up.

     "Dehors Novembre," by Patrick Bouchard, is based on the song of the same title by Les Colocs. The bluesy song is very bleak, the film even more so. Not a literal interpretation of the lyrics, the film follows a rat chasing a cherry, the rat being attacked by a cat, and the cat being killed by a car, out of which steps a john. He and a prostitute step into a building; the prostitute later deals drugs. An addict living on the street attacks her for the drugs, and she lands in the gutter by the cat. The film is a puppet film, made with small dolls in three dimensional set models. Suitable for ages 16 and up.

     "When the Day Breaks," by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, starts out much cheerier than the film preceding it, but soon the lead chicken in this wordless story is hit by a car, presumably killed, and the lead pig is sorrowing. The filmmakers videotaped actors miming the characters' roles, printed the phases of movements, and redrew and painted on top of the original recorded image. The film explores our connections to others in our urban environment. Suitable for ages 12 and up.

     "The Man Who Waited," by Theodore Ushev, is inspired by a text from Franz Kafka and, as such, is quite deep. It recounts the quest for truth. The film was made using Flash software, often used for Internet broadcasting. The style is reminiscent of linocut or wood engraving. Suitable for ages 14 and up.

     "Jeu," by Georges Shwizgebel, is visually stunning. Images, starting with basic shapes, continually morph, eventually forming scenes of humans playing in the park and playing in a symphony. These animated paintings are set to Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Opus 16, Scherzo. Suitable for ages 10 and up.

     "Through My Thick Glasses," by Pjotr Sapegin, is a story narrated by a grandfather attempting to get a cap onto his granddaughter before she goes outside. He tells her of his childhood in Norway during World War II and his attempts to join the Resistance. There are some brilliant images and symbolism in the film. The artwork is produced with modelling clay and a multiplane animation table. Suitable for ages 10 and up.

Recommended with reservations.

Renée Englot, a former junior high school teacher, now works as a professional storyteller in school settings. She holds a Master of Arts in Children's Literature.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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