Unfulfilled Animated Romances And More: Queer Stories at Anima Festival Brussels 2023
Who said that unfulfilled romances are out of favor? In the 'Queer Stories' animation programme of the celebrated Anima Festival Brussels (17-26 February 2023), an amalgam of stories and voices emerged -most notably from young authors.
"We do believe that representation of queer identities in animation has been growing these past years and when you have so many beautiful films that share the same strength, beauty, and theme, it’s a wonderful opportunity to gather them and make a special programme of its own" reads the Anima Festival organizers statement to Zippy Frames.
Beauty is a key word here; even the most coming-of-age animation docs, like 'The Best Grandfather in the World' by Nina Bisiarina, which details the coming out of the Russian gay guy Felix to his grandfather, uses a background that is both childlike and well-placed at the same time. The story of Felix and the expected homophobia he encounters are not new, but Bisiarina puts dramatic touches (like bonding and estrangement) that ring true.
Animation documentary seem to be a fine format to explicitly talk about representation, and the 2D 'Cuir Desire' by Lori Malépart-Traversy (from the Magical Caresses animated documentary series) is an unpretended effort in describing a very intimate telling of female masturbation, in which the expected LGBTQIA+ norms are here subversed. Desire works differently in mirroring (computer screen when watching porn) and in the mind (white stick figures in the dark) than in the real life of the individual. Imagination here gets a really additive, informative function.
Another screen for the mind is cinema itself, and that is exactly how 'La Vita Nuova' by Arthur Sevestre starts. The possibility of two gay men finding each other is here extended to a 4-minute search into a colorful urban playground. Saturated colors, and staircases that lead to more staircases (but uniformly dressed men, on the other hand) make the journey for the significant other a still delicate adventure.
La vita nuova
A more hands-on adventure of a plumber into a gay club in 'Pipes' by Jessica Meir, Kilian Feusi, and Sujanth Ravichandran uses a b&w aesthetic to parody the well-known sayings on sex and plumbers. Only this time, the plumber is the one to be taught a few things. Fittingly equating the mechanics of plumbing with the mechanics of gay sex, the film is as racy and funny as its title.
Talking of parody, Slovenian Leo Černic with 'Pentola' brings the superheroes to the table -and accented English, coupled with a caricatured graphic design does the trick. The film also works as a metaphor for the coming out which can only take place outside gravity, and all characters are appropriately designed for the task.
More comedy comes in the snail-infected 'Sasha' by the Romanian Serghei Chiviriga, in which voice alterations are used as typically different gender expressions, and most of the time confusing. The fact that the visuals won't reflect this change as strongly, makes it even better to talk about genderqueer/non-binary -and get a good romance in the process.
'Flora Borealis' by US author Casey Friedman goes to the moody side, in which a gay man needs to help his own partner by telling a story; here the therapeutic element of the story of the glass garden (and its intricacies) give a beauty that can be transferred to the sketchily designed characters. It is as if a 3D immersive environment needs to enter our characters' own lives -and it does the trick.
Unfulfilled romances get to their apogee with 'Christopher at Sea' by Tom CJ Brown; here desire is represented as strongly in virile but still fragile bodies -and as hopeless. The more literary and operatic of the Queer Stories bunch, 'Christopher at Sea' looks awesomely desperate and as youthful as all its main characters.
There are many different kinds of stories to be told in terms of orientation, gender, and national/race background. But putting them together on the big animated screen somehow lights them all up. Anima Brussels 2023 contributes on its own to this representation query. Let's go for some more next year.
(central image: Pentola by Leo Černic)
Anima Festival takes place from 17-26 February 2023 in Flagey, Brussels.
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