Vassilis Kroustallis reviews the animation feature Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jame Cannary by Rémi Chayé.
It might by as well be the first time Calamity Jane is depicted in a major animation feature. In Rémi Chayé's Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary (producers: Maybe Movies, Nørlum), a well-crafted but rather timid representation of the famous legend, the open landscapes and vistas do the job that the script itself mostly tries to deliver -with varied results.
During the second half of the 19th century, 12-year-old Martha Jane is heading west with her family and a large community of wagon trains in search of a better life. Martha is determined, outspoken and not girlish enough -everything that the small community would not tolerate. Her father Robert loves her, but would still not approve of her boyish behaviour. Ethan, the son of conservative Abraham (and the leader of the wagon train route) will think of all different way to discredit a girl he secretly admires.
The initial catalyst would be a US lieutenant named Samson; he's the one to provide the locals more exact information about their destination, and he would be the cause to get Martha Jane outside the community.
Once more after Longway North, Rémi Chayé uses strong and determined characters to capture the freewheeling liberty against conventions; however, here the circumstances he and his fellow scriptwriters Sandra Tosello and Fabrice de Costil feel too mundane and easily solved.
Which doesn't imply that the film is not enjoyable by itself; for instance, there is fun to watch the whole rituals of dressing clothing or Martha's initial fling with a fellow young outlaw (Calamity makes clear, in all ways possible, that Martha Jane is straight). But it definitely seems as if all the dramatic boxes have to be ticked: honesty vs. crime temptation, a strong female figure (Madame Moustache) to compensate for the mother loss, reconciliation. It is not that these points are not fine by themselves; they are simply too hastily put in together to bring forward a potent and really exciting dramatic result -as for instance, you'd have in Days of the Crows, another story of children who don't fit in in their environment.
A consideration which leaves it to the open-vista aesthetics to tell the story as convincingly as it can, with both their tailor-made lights and shadows, sunrises and sunsets. The film feels and looks liberated (and natural) from the very start -the lack of landscape and character design realistic details actually adds to the feeling that there is a whole horizon of opportunities ahead of you. Directing individual scenes with all the intricacies of horses and people falling feels robust and well-timed. There is excitement in these small parts, and the relation between Martha Jane and Jonas hits some sparks.
Calamity: A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary tries to tie all loose ends in the final act, and seems to lose sight of the fact that the real Calamity had to re-create her own community from the start -instead of going back to her old ways. It is an enjoyable adventure to watch, and appropriately rendered in its visuals, but still its (well-placed) intentions create a one-way street for the central character to follow.
contributed by: Vassilis Kroustallis