Picking up where the first Competition left off, and with the same high standard still very much on show, The Boy in the Bubble ( Kealan O’ Rourke, Ireland, 2011, ****) is an enchanting potion of magic and melancholia; perhaps the closest we’ll get to Tim Burton’s take on Harry Potter. When Rupert- a near-facsimile of Burton’s Vincent– falls in love with a girl at school, he’ll try anything to catch her attention. Unfortunately, the magic spells to which he turns have a habit of complicating matters… A lustrous fairy tale narrated by none other than Snape himself, Alan Rickman.
Don’t Tell Santa You’re Jewish ( Jody Kramer, Canada, 2010, ***), as the title pithily puts it, tells the story of a young girl afraid to visit Santa at the mall in case he discovers she is Jewish. A shaky, childlike cartoon that wouldn’t be out of place on Sesame Street. Peanuts , but kosher.
366 Days ( Johannes Schiehsl, Germany, 2011 *****) is the most poignant 3D tale since Up. As Patrick waits in traffic, the lights of a passing ambulance act as a literal flashback to his year of national service; where we see that the biggest problem facing the elderly patients is loneliness. Its medical red- and-white colour scheme and superb storytelling provide tragedy, comedy, perfectly realised characters and a potentially life-saving use for classical music- allcrammed into twelve minutes.
And while our hearts are still warmed, we have the stop-motion Bottle (Kirsten Lepore, USA, 2010, ****). Imagine Romeo and Juliet as performed by a pile of sand and a mound of snow- separated by the ocean between them. They send love letters via bottle; a snatch of seaweed and a scoopful of shells, before, finally, they can be apart no more.
Sorrow is the stock in trade for Don Justino de Neve ( Daisy Jacobs, UK, 2011, ****), as the subject of Murillo’s painting is reimagined as a louche and lethal lothario. He introduces himself as ‘‘the villain of the piece… not Mills and Boon, but James Bond’’- and his word is not enough. We see him breaking hearts without breaking a sweat, ‘‘irresistible to women with low self-esteem’’. An amusing and well-crafted cartoon character assassination.
Like a spoof Twilight Zone episode comes Out of Erasers (Erik Rosenlund, Denmark/Sweden, 2011 **), an initially tense but altogether tenuous noir based around the sudden disappearance of the world’s erasers. How else to fend off the strange scribbles that are spreading like a virus? Despite its comic potential, it’s difficult to maintain disbelief after fifteen minutes. Perhaps two-thirds of its running time would’ve benefited from the other end of a pencil.
Alimation (Alexandre Dubosc, France, 2011 *** ) is a neat concept that ever so slightly outstays its welcome. Peering through a zoopraxiscope, a series of themed cakes are essentially brought to life by the jittery movements of their respective decorations. Imagine a rollercoaster zooming past a delicatessen window. Fast, frenzied but equally as nauseating.
Given the scale of invention and illumination on show in Luminaris ( Juan Pablo Zaramella, Argentina, 2011, *****), the setting of an electric bulb factory seems perfectly fitting. Using real actors and stop-motion objects, here’s a story of revenge and romance in a dimly-lit dystopia. Rather like our protagonists in their Gondry-inspired getaway, it’s impossible not to be lifted.
Battenberg (Stewart Comrie, UK, 2010, ****) is a curious slice of the macabre. Combining the mechanical mistrust of the Quay Brothers with claustrophobic horror, it’s a film that lures you into the unknown. In a taxidermist’s take on the Spider and the Fly, a squirrel invites a magpie to tea. Although this sounds innocent enough, there’s something very unnerving about the shadowy jars, the crooked shelves, the shimmering knives. And then there’s the guest book with no recorded departures… Magpie declines the offer (well, he’s already stuffed) but there’s a horrible red glint in Squirrel’s eye that suggests escape is not an option. A deeply disturbing diorama- not least due to the house servants, who look like chicken nuggets but caw like seagulls. Whatever they are, they should be culled immediately.
And whatever Hello Bambi ( Faiyaz Jafri, USA, 2011, ****) is all about I have no idea, but I loved every surreal minute. The safest bet is to say that somewhere along the line, Snow White has taken a bite from a poisoned apple and is therefore en route to hospital. Just what sights appear along the way, however, can only be described as Andy Warhol’s hookah hallucination. A woman sits upon a mushroom, her face concealed by a Darth Vader mask. A Delorean flies through cyberspace. A runaway train zooms through a kaleidoscopic tunnel. Everything has an impossibly shiny, hermetically sealed plastic veneer and is soundtracked (or as Jafri himself puts it, ‘respectfully assaulted’) by a techno version of Chopin’s Funeral March. It’s all painfully postmodern with absolutely nothing to say. Subtle it ain’t, but fun you betcha.
Fun is something deliberately omitted from the agenda of The Gloaming (Nicolas Schmerkin, France, 2010 ****); which, rather like the Big Bang off its meds, throws together live action, CGI and good old-fashioned animation to form an insanely bleak creation myth. A man wandering the desert stumbles upon a Flubber-like substance. Soon it grows, and sprouts life. Next, it’s almost destroyed. Should he intervene? Although this topic has been explored before (and with particular precision in a Futurama episode), there is still much to consider here. The history of the Earth- from dinosaur to dystopia- is covered with maximum speed and minimum diplomacy. For the most part, such nihilism suits the work perfectly but the final few minutes spin out of control. The political jabs are a little heavy- handed and the vision of factories spewing out babies- each born and branded with a barcode- is something of a Sixth Form indulgence.
And what to say about La Détente (Pierre Ducos/Bey Bertrand, France, 2011, *****), other than to declare it the greatest war film Pixar never made? A soldier lies in a trench, paralyzed by fear. The camera then swoops inside his mind to uncover a war fought by toys, a multi-coloured melee of painted dolls and plastic soldiers. A visual onslaught somewhere between Speed Racer and Saving Private Ryan, all without showing a single drop of blood.Dazzling, disarming but also destructive, each frame rumbles with airstrikes, marches or exploding mines. It’s Hell through Hamley’s window. But before we get too cosy in this cotton-wool clad conflict, we’re hurled back to the frontline with a reveal that hammers the point home; right between the eyes.