This year's slate features five wordless films from around the globe. There's the Russian Lavatory Lovestory, France's Oktapodi, the British This Way Up, America's Presto, and Japan's La Maison en Petits Cubes.
Yes, the Japanese entry has a French title. You know why? Because fuck you and your antique sense of national boundaries, that's why.
It's also, by far, the best of the lot, and if it doesn't win the Oscar, it'll just be the conclusion to an argument whose premises include Paul Blart: Mall Cop and the candidacy of Sarah Palin.
But starting down the line a little, both the American and British entries have shown up in Tucson before, during last year's Animation Show, also brought to you by, yes, the Loft. Really, you should go to the Loft and just give them all your money and a rhesus monkey and God, because they're that good.
The most American of this year's entries, Presto, a Pixar/Disney short, is pretty amusing. Its 3-D computer animation is nicely rendered, in the manner of all the Pixar movies, and its brief plot--about a rabbit, a magician and two magic hats--is passably funny. In short, the rabbit wants a carrot; the show is about to begin, and the magician must then deal with the repercussions of leaving a hungry bunny in possession of a charmed chapeau. Droll.
But not very deep, and pretty much a retread of some old Bugs Bunny cartoons, only with more expensive graphics. This Way Up, the English entry, is a bit more inventive and notably darker. It features two dour undertakers who must literally go to hell and back in order to complete their task: burying the dead. This Way is also computer-generated 3-D animation, but it has a sort of stop-motion feel to it, with richer, less-shiny textures and a foggy sense of atmosphere. It would probably be better if the slapstick stopped slapping a little earlier, but it is witty and engaging enough for its eight-minute run time.
Also going for laughs are Oktapodi and Lavatory Lovestory, though these two add in a bit of pathos and romance. Oktapodi is a vegan tale of the terrible fate awaiting two cephalopods who are deemed tasty by French gourmands. Their rubbery bodies prove useful in a getaway attempt and provide three minutes of high-speed thrills. Yet again, Oktapodi is CGI, which, frankly, I'm getting sick of. Can no one draw anything anymore?
Yes, they can. Both Lavatory Lovestory and La Maison are hand-drawn. Lavatory is done in simple black lines on a white background, and, in 10 minutes, it tells a real-time tale of love in a lavatory. It's a sort of sweeter, gentler, more heterosexual version of The Larry Craig Story, and, frankly, it's funnier and more family-friendly.
But the winner, and by far the best of the lot, is La Maison en Petits Cubes, a gorgeous, hand-drawn story of a man who lives in a world where the floodwaters will not stop rising. Every few years, he must build a new story on his house and move into it, rising higher above the sunken earth. But one day, a lost pipe leads him to a diving expedition into his past. It's so sad and pretty that it's like watching a unicorn die. It's also largely the work of a single artist, Kunio Katô, who, unlike his American and British competition, conceived, wrote and drew the entire film himself. Katô even did the backgrounds, cinematography and music. Because the Japanese are just better than us.
To be fair, Lavatory Lovestory is mostly done by one man as well, but it's a simpler job. The rest of the films are the products of larger groups; the credits for Presto, for example, run for nearly 20 percent of the film's length. I'm all for collaboration, but this assortment of shorts makes the case that a committee can guarantee acceptable art, but an individual is more likely to produce something extreme and singular.
Nonetheless, all the films are worth watching; it's just that La Maison will stick with you in the way a Beethoven piano concerto or intestinal polyps will: melodically, and accompanied by a visceral longing for a past that cannot be expunged.