MONSTRA Lisbon Animated Film Festival 2023: Top Picks
Once again, the Monstra Lisbon Animation Festival was full of events beyond the cinema sessions, spreading through museums, galleries, and movie theaters. This year the guest country was Japan, with several special sessions and masterclasses from that country. As examples, I mention the masterclasses with Koji Yamamura, with historian Ilan Nguyen, in addition to several special sessions such as Osamu Tezuka and Studio Ghibli.
Nevertheless, the Festival did not focus on Japan only. Masterclasses with Joanna Quinn and Michäel Dudok de Wit were quite popular, in addition to exhibitions such as 'Time Keeping Puppets - A journey into the world of Portuguese animation puppets' (at the Museu da Marioneta), 'Koji Yamamura: Dozens of Drawings!' (at Museu do Oriente), 'Centenary of Portuguese Animation Cinema: 100 years, 100 films' (at Cinemateca Portuguesa), 'Raimund Krumme: Traces of Movement' (Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes). Unmissable. All will still be open until the end of the month, but with variable exhibition periods.
In general, the festival presented a very high level of quality, with productions already shown at other events, such as Annecy Festival. Therefore, they have already been discussed here, so I prioritized what was new to me and caught my attention. And that regardless of whether it was awarded or not.
In this case, the competitive sessions of short films, the competition of Portuguese short films, and the feature films of the session called Anima CPLP - films from Portuguese-speaking countries, in addition to the presentation of Portuguese projects in production. These were the ones I got to see closer.
About the Short Films Competition
Of the 35 short films shown, including 'Bird In The Peninsula' (Atsushi Wada, 2022), 'Steakhouse' (Špela Čadež, 2021), and 'Amok' (Balázs Turai, 2022), the ones that caught my attention the most were:
- 'Iizuna Fair' - by Sumito Sakakibara, Japan, 2021, 12 min.
In the midst of a frenzy night, a man finds himself lost in the crevasse of time. It was not grotesque beings nor monsters, but it was he who "was there, but he was not there". He was the phantom.
The short begins in a house, with a man climbing a ladder. It is as if someone's life was projected onto the white wall through drawings. As in a traveling camera, it shows scenes from an amusement park, fair, and countryside, with people and animals which metamorphose into each other. The actions happen simultaneously, as on positions of other graphic interferences. At certain moments it reminded me of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. The soundtrack collaborates with this oneiric feeling, being intimate and melancholy but striking.
- 'Dies Irae' - by Maru Collective, Australia, New Zealand, 2022, 8min.
Two playful angels, seven sinful pigs, and one poor righteous passerby.
A short that questions the human condition. The audience is placed as an all-seeing voyeur inside an apartment building with a retail store on the ground floor. It is tragicomic and brilliant, where the stroke of the drawing is the "lord" of the representation.
- 'Swallow The Universe' - by Nieto, France, 2021, 12 min.
'Shallow The Universe' tells the story of a young child lost in Manchuria’s deep jungles. Gifted with a striking beauty, the child's presence awakens human emotions in the animals, creating complete anarchy in a once peaceful world.
It is a short film with a visual and sound impact, where the term bizarre defines it positively. It is a somewhat eschatological hero saga. The narrative is developed through images with strong contrasts and a predominance of red color, where the narration of the character of the tortoise sheds light on oriental history. This film resulted from a graphic collage with diverse and constant interference. Striking and uncomfortable.
Two other animations that stand out due to the aesthetics of the technique:
- 'King’s Garden' - by Iraj Mohammadi Razini, Iran, 2021, 7 min.
A man in love enters a forbidden garden, in the freezing winter, to win the heart of his beloved.
Stop-motion with pine leaves, which look like tiny sticks. Fascinating the visual result and even the movements of these long elements. The lack of shape definition created by the set of these leaves and the contrast between the light and the shadows' black results in tension. This no-definition also demands a kind of audience participation to understand all the actions represented.
- 'Of Wood' - by Owen Klatte, USA, 2022, 7 min.
"Of Wood” is a unique stop-motion film created by progressively carving images into a large round of wood, enhanced with wooden objects emerging from the wood. It examines the role of wood in daily life through the ages and comments on the impact of consumerism on our lives.
The synopsis says it all. It was insane to work but with a visual result that made us reflect on the animated work. The light was used intelligently, creating shadows of key defining lines for this moving “low relief”. Fantastic.
About the Portuguese Short films session
There were 13 films shown, including 'Garrano' (David Doutel, Vasco Sá, 2022) and 'Ice Merchants' (João Gonzalez, 2022) - the greater winner of this festival - already commented on Zippy Frames. However, beyond the indisputable diversity of this session, the film that attracted me was:
- 'The Time Keeping House' - by Joana Imaginário, Portugal, 2022, 12 min.
In a house where a library, museum, and workshops combine, one day, all books get sick. The restorer, followed by the house watchers, becomes the guardian of the book in which she had gathered pieces of the rest of the works she had managed to save — the book that will save all the others.
Animation has been done on paper, bringing the artist's concerns linked to memories and a feminine vision of life. The beauty and refinement of how paper is used to embody this story in a poetic, and well-made film.
About Anima CPLP
All feature films have already been here commented on: 'Forbidden World' (Alê Camargo, Camila Carrossine, 2022), 'My Grandfather’s Demons' (Nuno Beato, 2022), 'Nayola' (José Miguel Ribeiro, 2022), 'Perlimps' (Alê Abreu, 2022). Except for a Brazilian film that had its world premiere at Monstra and competed in the 'Perspectives' Category. It was awarded the audience prize in this one, beating out one of the Annecy winners, 'Little Nicholas – Happy as Can Be' (Amandine Fredon, Benjamin Massoubre, 2022).
- 'Bizarre Fish From The Abyssal Zone' - by Marcelo Marão, Brazil, 2023, 75 min.
What are these things you drew down here on the map? / Fish. The bizarre fish from the abyssal zone.
From a surreal, disconnected narrative, the story just makes sense in the end. It is a tribute to the cartoon, to the line. The use of color and the soundtrack are highlighted and actively participate in the narrative. I will develop more about this in a separate article interview.
'Bizarre Fish From The Abyssal Zone' - by Marcelo Marão, 2023
About Portuguese Animation projects
More than 30 animation projects in the making were presented during the Monstra Lisbon Festival. So I had to make a very narrow selection to comment on. I noticed many animated documentaries. The projects I was most curious about were:
- 'Percebes' - Animated doc by Laura Gonçalves and Alexandra Ramires about exploiting this type of crustacean on the Algarve coast and the local populations. It is still at the beginning, but it generates curiosity for the direction and production of BAP studio.
- 'O Homem Que Não Existe' (The Man who does not exist) - It is an animated doc by Ana Cristina Pereira, a production of Animais. It tells the story of a man incarcerated for 40 years (in Portugal, the maximum sentence is 25 years) without civil registration and, therefore, cannot be released. Also, in the initial phase, the roughs show the contrast of black and white, creating a cold and lonely atmosphere.
- 'Virgin Fandango' - By Marcy Page, sound by Norman Roger, and Ciclope Filmes production. The director uses Portuguese tiles and the Marian cult to create a feminist manifesto. Animation made with drawings on tiles, with more than 8 thousand tiles.
- 'As Garras da Mãe' (Mother's Claws)- by Regina Pessoa, and Ciclope Filmes production. Once again, the director brings her family universe, the mother figure, mixing her drawings with those of her mother and talking about this woman's life "with two children, with mental illness and domestic violence, in a post-dictatorship Portugal".
- 'Undo' - by Andrea Midori, produced by Sardinha em Lata, animated series for young/adult audiences. The idea behind this series is to explore today's society through two Pugs, which are best friends yet antagonistic, tackling women's issues. With a more "dirty" look, it is possible to perceive a certain comic irony.
- 'O Baile' (The Waltz) - A 2D feature film by João Alves with a script by Nuno Duarte and artistic direction by Joana Afonso, produced by COLA Animation. It is based on a graphic novel of the same name. With a realistic but somewhat macabre look, it tells the story of a policeman sent to a village to investigate supernatural situations.
As you can see at the end of this review, much excellent and exciting stuff was left out. Other projects, productions, sessions, and shows the music. This mix of artistic manifestations around animation makes Monstra a great cult for animated art.
'Undo' - A series project by Andrea Midori, produced by Sardinha em Lata
'Virgin Fandango' - Short film project by Marcy Page, sound by Norman Roger and Ciclope Filmes production
'O Homem Que Não Existe' (The Man who does not exist) - Animated doc project by Ana Cristina Pereira, Animais production.
'O Baile' (The Prom) - A 2D feature film project by Nuno Duarte and Joana Afonso, produced by Cola Animation
Monstra Festival 2023 Team
Next year, Monstra will celebrate Ireland's participation as a guest country.
The Oscar-nominated 'Ice Merchants' by João Gonzalez won the Monstra Grand Prix, and 'Unicorn Wars' by Alberto Vázquez won in the Feature Film Category. The full winners' list. Monstra, Lisbon Animation Festival took place from 15th to 26th March 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal
contributed by: Eliane Gordeeff
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