Oink (2022) by Mascha Halbserstad Review: Sausages Can Alienate Families

Oink feature animation by Mascha Halberstad

(Munya in Me, Goodbye Mr. de Vries) certainly knows how to mix comedy, poignancy and dark pellets of behavior into a single mix. Her first feature film effort (premiered at Berlinale Generation in 2022) is 'Oink' ('Knor' in Dutch), which details in stop-motion the story of Babs, a 9-year-old girl in rural surroundings and her surprise birthday gift - a good-for-nothing but still adorable piglet called 'Oink'.

 Based on the book 'De wraak van Knor' by Tosca Menten, and with a script by Fiona van Heemstra (production: Viking Film), 'Oink' hits more adult animation notes than any of its US studio equivalents. The theme of a dysfunctional family (a must in coming-of-age films) is here treated in a more mature and believable way; the vegetarian Babs gets along with both her artistically-minded mother and her Beta male father (who's only good at solving crosswords). But she still cannot comprehend her mom's disdain for the long-absent, US-cowboy-like grandfather, who appears a Deus ex machina (with a long mustache and a silly hat) -and a mysterious suitcase. The grandfather and his pig present will be the cause of a drama that unfolds unlike most of the children's family stories.

But then again stop-motion invites the unexpected, even though Halberstandt has brilliantly clothed her characters in unassuming clothing, and has provided for them a calm green environment full of light -hats off for the film's production design- the story will soon turn into some dark corners. The film will still proceed with the familiar (and funny) tropes of 'educating your pet' stand, but it poses (and rather timely) another threat -that still comes from the family inside.

Halbsterstad populates her environment with a multitude of characters, which give a spectrum of behaviors (even though the grandfather's own motivation is still left quite unexplored). The film also posits itself finely both in the past (a sausage competition that ends really badly) and the present, in a setting where computers are only used for detective searches -mostly by Babs' loyal and suspicious friend, Tijn.

Armed with a lot of representation and inclusivity points in its minor characters (such as the black announcer), 'Oink' still won't let go of its pig poop jokes; here they are used self-consciously, repeatedly, and for a purpose. They are mostly to reveal hypocrisy, double-faced behavior and insecurities. They are welcome in this context (but they go too far in their last appearance, in which the level of disgust rises exponentially for the audience as well).

Stop-motion animation here is as playful as it should be among the human characters; the pig itself is a little bit leftover in terms of character design and movements- so its human friends need to compensate for that. But the slug scene (especially because of its minuscule characters) is a standout in both writing and execution.

'Oink' is never a 'message' vegetarianism film, even though it starts from the outset with a committed vegetarian character and family. It is more of a meticulously researched output on outcasts and families - and trying to figure out which of the outcast members is better to be included in that cherished institution. In the meantime, it is invitingly luminescent, free-floating, and with the right portion of emotional investment. 

Vassilis Kroustallis

'Oink' screens as part of Anima Brussels Festival, 17-26 February 2023.

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