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Review: ‘Nine Nation Animation’

The World According to Shorts Takes Us on an Animated World Tour

Above: This image doesn't even begin to convey the visual splendor of "Bamiyan," one of nine international animated shorts collected in "Nine Nation Animation."

The World According to Shorts presents a selection of award-winning animated short films from renowned international festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Annecy, Clermont Ferrand and others in the showcase "Nine Nation Animation" (opening August 5 at Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters).

As with all omnibus films, the compilation of international animation shorts put together by The World According to Shorts for "Nine Nation Animation" is a mixed lot that takes us from the mundane to the breathtaking. Here in San Diego we get spoiled by the various animation programs assembled on a regular basis by Spike and Mike. But "Nine Nation Animation" is a welcome addition if only for two stellar works: “Bâmiyân” by France's Patrick Pleutin (France) and “Home Road Movies” by England's Robert Bradbrook.

“Bâmiyân” is a phenomenal and exquisitely beautiful animated tale set in 632 AD. It concerns Xuanzang, a Chinese monk, who discovers the statues representing Buddha in the valley of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. But the narrative jumps to a new, more contemporary voice as, the children of the valley reveal another version of the myth and the tragic destiny of these statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. I am not quite sure how the animation was done but it is like a continually changing canvas of paint in which images are constantly morphing into new ones and hidden images are revealed only to be washed over with new paint and a new composition. The fluidity of the animation and its breathtaking artistry are riveting and it completely sweeps you up in its tale. This short was hands down the most visually rapturous work of the collection and for this film alone it is worth checking out the showcase.

"Home Road Movies" is another of the outstanding shorts in "Nine Nation Animation."

The World According to Shorts

Above: "Home Road Movies" is another of the outstanding shorts in "Nine Nation Animation."

But then there's also "Home Road Movies," a delightful and poignant remembrance of a boy's road trips with his family. The animation style borrows its look from scrapbooking so it is a mix of photos and cut outs set against realistic but nostalgia tinged backgrounds. Bill Paterson (from Bill Forsyth's "Local Hero") is the dad who appears in animated 2-D photos. This is a case of a perfect blend of animation style, story, and performance (of the narrator). It's funny but also tinged with the bittersweet hindsight of an adult looking back on his childhood and what seemed like glorious adventures. This is not the display of mesmerizing artistry like “Bâmiyân” but rather a triumph of storytelling where everything works toward a single elegantly crafted effect. These two films are among the best shorts I have seen in years.

"The Tale of How" from "Nine Nation Animation."

The World According to Shorts

Above: "The Tale of How" from "Nine Nation Animation."

In terms of animation, “The Tale of How” by The Blackheart Gang (South Africa) is the more visually impressive of the rest of the entries. It tells a tale of the piranha birds or dodos and uses an intricately detailed style of animation that is quite entrancing. In terms of storytelling, “Never Like the First Time!” by Jonas Odell (Sweden) serves up the most engaging narration as it gathers up tales of people's first time sexual encounters and animates each in a different style. For humor, “Deconstruction Workers” by Kajsa Naess (Norway) offers dry social commentary while “Flatlife” by Jonas Geirnaert (Belgium) offers delightful and slightly surreal observational comedy.

The rest of the shorts get barely passing grades and could have been left out and never been missed. The remaining entries are: “Average 40 Matches” by Burkay Doğan & M. Şakir Arslan (Turkey); “Please Say Something” by David O’Reilly (Ireland/Germany); and “She Who Measures” by Veljko Popoviç (Croatia).

So if you like animation or just good filmmaking, check out "Nine Animation Nation" (unrated but for mature audiences and in multiple languages with English subtitles). These are films that are unlikely to ever hit the big screen in San Diego again and “Bâmiyân” alone is worth catching on the big screen because you should never pass up an opportunity to see something that will simply take your breath away.

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