The Best of Anima 2
Max entre ciel et terre © 2004 Caméra Enfants Admis
Emru Townsend · August 17, 2006 | The old days of getting animation on video from abroad were pretty hard compared to our digital age. If you really wanted to explore what the world had to offer back in the day, you had to somehow arrange to get tapes from overseas, then get them translated from PAL or SECAM to NTSC, and hope you could make sense of the production's original language once you finally sat down to watch it.

The DVD format solves many of these problems, especially if you buy a region-free, multi-format DVD player. However, The Best of Anima 2 is one of those discs that brings the old days back clearly: it's only available in the EU, it's in PAL, and it only has French and Dutch language tracks. Frankly, it's worth the trouble.

The Best of Anima 2 is just that—the second compilation of shorts from the Anima animation festival held in Brussels every year. Likely as a consequence of the festival's European locale, minus the gravitational pull of Annecy, only one of the twelve shorts (Bill Plympton's Guard Dog) is American. So there's a greater chance that people who don't get their shorts fix at festivals haven't run across some of these films before.

The Best of Anima 2
Produced by Folioscope, 2005
100 minutes

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There are no clunkers on this disc, though Voer voor Kranken, a Dutch alternate history in which psychoanalytic treatment focuses almost entirely on people's posteriors, is perhaps a little too quietly absurd. What's remarkable is how hard it was for me to choose a favourite among the rest; in the end, I settled on the four titles I couldn't stop thinking about. However, two of them are entirely in French, and particularly heavy on dialogue.

La Poupée cassée (The Broken Doll) and Max entre ciel et terre (Max Between the Sky and the Earth) were both produced for the Année européenne des personnes handicapées (European Year for Handicapped People), which was in 2003. Both are also quite subtle, though in different ways. La Poupée cassée is straightforward—a girl has trouble coping with the needs of her handicapped younger brother—but when one of her friends starts mocking him, most likely as a result of her not-so-subtle cues, she sees it as a reflection of her own behaviour and realizes how wrong she's been. The interesting thing is that her transformation isn't magically complete; at the end, we can see that it's incremental at best, but that even that slight change is a start.

The title character of Max entre ciel et terre has an interesting disability: gravity works for him in reverse. Not only will he float up until something stops him, his proper orientation is upside-down to the rest of the world. Most of the story is told in flashback, recounting Max's first day in school (he has to be carried by his sister at the end of a string, balloon-like) as he makes new friends, is picked on, and adapts to a world that isn't made for him.

Max entre ciel et terre declares in its introduction that it was created with the help of 37 children. In some ways, that's pretty obvious: every voice is performed by a child, and the style, a combination of collage and drawn animation, is based on children's drawings. As director Jean-Luc Slock is the founder of Caméra Enfants Admis, that participation actually goes deeper: the children were involved in the animation and the story development, as well. This serves to make Max entre ciel et terre even more remarkable, as in eight and a half minutes it covers an enormous amount of territory, making many of its best points by following the animation maxim of "show, don't tell." There are so many little touches: Max's silent frustration at being unable to read the blackboard as he stands on the ceiling; the up side of accommodation (the teacher eventually realizes that he needs to reorient the blackboard when Max needs to read it), as well as the down side (in an effort to allow Max to enjoy watching a basketball game like everyone else, his ankles are tied to a dumbbell—but in short order, the blood rushes to his head); his sister's sudden frustration at her responsibility; Max's reluctance to talk about his ordeals to his mother. All of these points and more are made in what is, at its core, a very simple and direct narrative.

My other favourite, Flatlife, is less weighty but hilariously entertaining. The screen is divided into four segments, each corner representing a different apartment in a high-rise. The events in each apartment affects another in some way, prompting different reactions from the tenants, which in turn results in new inter-apartment happenings. Flatlife is in the tradition of interlocking animated films like Flugbild and the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2005 signal film, but the emphasis is less on being a puzzle and more on following a clear and funny chain of cause and effect. However, in the tradition of these types of films, it does have an internal rhythm, expressed in a staccato, eleven-beat bit of percussion that is used to signify dialogue, hammering nails, brooms struck against ceilings, and so on.

It's a shame that animation compilations like these aren't that easy to find in North America; until they are, putting in the time and energy to get your hands on The Best of Anima 2 is a worthwile investment.

DVD Features: French and Dutch language tracks; French and Dutch subtitles; PAL; Region 2.

DVD Extras: Anima 2005 trailer; director self-portrait gallery.

See film clips from The Best of Anima 2
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