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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Celluloid 08.07.12] Argentina scifi animation comedy drama fantasy


The tagline on the film Anima Buenos Aires reads, "Funny stories of love and tango." However, to say that these stories are about love or that they're funny, isn't necessarily accurate. In fact, as the shorts range from comical to haunting, with various animation styles, it's almost difficult to analyze the film as a whole. What this film does accomplish, however, is creating a collective display of filmmakers and artists, presenting audiences with their own political, personal, uplifting and saddening perceptions of their Buenos Aires. Each of the four short stories is separated by an animation, created by Maria Veronica Ramirez, of a stenciled graffiti couple, tangoing throughout the city. While this does little to introduce the tone of each short, it serves to remind the viewer of the underlying theme of these films, representing Buenos Aires and the country that brought us the dance of love.

The first short film, "Down On His Luck," tells the all too familiar story of a devoted local butcher whose business turns sour after the colossal Guggenheim Supermarkets opens down the street. It was created by Pablo and Florencia Faivre and like many of their past animation projects, its executed in cutout animation style, though with a brighter color palette than usual. While not on the same level of bizarre as Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations, and with a more straightforward message, the distorted proportions of the townspeople and a beautifully designed sequence of dancing raw meat create a similarly queer atmosphere. Right from the start we get a close up of dog feces sitting on the sidewalk, being blasted with a hose by our protagonist's main acquaintance--a plump customer who smiles with a scowl and speaks with a mix of barking and engine revving noises. The animators use the butcher's interactions with his regular customers to bolster the decadence of the locals. A young boy is handed a raw meat popsicle. A cow pops its head out of our butcher's freezer to have its head bashed in with a meat tenderizer. The cow carcass is then tossed into the open arms of a smiling elderly woman. While this didn't add to the narrative per se, it definitely established the animators' odd style, and paints a particular image of modern consumerism.

Pablo and Florencia Faivre are not shy about social criticism and their discontent with society's lack of sympathy in the battle between small businesses and big business chains and major conglomerates. When the supermarket descends from the sky like a UFO, armed with the stylish, sexy Guggenheim cheerleaders, the townspeople are in awe. The butcher goes from skillfully serving a revolving door of customers, to sitting in an empty shop with flickering lights. The tragedy is not simply our hero's loss of loyal clients, but the negative perception that builds around these small, homegrown businesses. Each day, we hear a bitter radio host congratulating big business for bringing quality, choice and the "art of buying" to Argentina, while the "small-minded storekeeper" struggles to adapt. Although the story is specific to Buenos Aires, the overall theme remains relevant in the US, as well. Even as the radio host's views prove to be little more than fleeting fancies, shifting quickly to fit the times, one can't help but feel that, once again, this story is all too familiar.

This serious climate doesn't last long, however. Each short is under twenty minutes, making sure no one over stays their welcome. We are soon transported back to the streets of Buenos Aires, with our dancing lovers, dipping under peeling paint, weaving around windows and splattering into the introduction of "Claustropolis." While "Down On His Luck" had its darker moments, what with slaughtering the cow and all, this short by Pablo Rodriguez Jauregui is nearly innocent enough to be featured as a 1990's Nick Jr. short, right beside Amby and Dexter. In fact, our protagonist even looks a bit like Dexter, with a similar style of animation, watercolor pastels and an emphasis toward creativity through art. Jaregui's story is about a young boy, who loves to draw all he sees, though his view of the city is restricted by his guardians. One day, while being driven home, he spots a wall decorated with vibrantly colored spray paints, standing out from the neutral gray and ruddy brown hues of the city. The culprit is a young female graffiti artist, who instantly catches his attention. Reversing the plot of the common fairy tale romance, it is the young boy trapped in his tower-like apartment complex. After encouraging the boy to escape and set out into the city alone for the first time, the graffiti artist's paint cans become breadcrumbs for him to follow. As she leads him from one adventure to the next, this becomes an inspirational tale about embracing the outside world, along with its challenges, new experiences and the visions it inspires.

While Jaregui's Buenos Aires is filled with color and opportunity, the city that emerges in Carlos Nine's "Bu-Bu" paints a far grimmer picture than we've seen. It begins in black and white live action, resembling a scene from a 1930's crime, thriller. After a man is gunned down by the police, he takes us back to how this life of crime began, painting the images in his blood-this is our introduction into the animation. Rather than allowing the animation to tell the story, Nine uses dark imagery to accompany the narrator's tale. Nicknamed "Baby" by his circle of friends, who would later be part of his gang, he tells us his account of their immersion into street crime, from tormenting old ladies on the streets, to raping and killing for quick cash or sport.

A lot of the imagery manages to capture the untamed childishness and disregard for others that eventually breeds into a life of unchallenged, sadistic crime. As he laughs about their rape of minors, we're met with a silly cartoonish scene of a young girl tied to the train tracks. Baby's gang watches amusedly as a grand piano crashes on top of the girl, seconds before the train hits. There's also sequence of more surrealist interpretations. An explanation of teenage years slipping away is joined by a large, wilting pacifier, with a melting nipple. His "cold" family is presented as a group of lifeless stones sitting in front of a TV. Nine's illustrations also range from elaborate to unusually simple. For example, one of his female friends, nicknamed "Dumb" is a looming, lanky figure, with the body of a human and the abnormally large head of a rabbit, always wearing an ear-to-ear grin. His friend named "Screw," however, is literally just a screw. The style is done with all black and white drawings, its shading done in crude lines and hatchwork, which fits well for this type of narrative. The live-action framing device, which is inherent to the story, almost feels like an unwanted distraction and this unoriginal story would be nothing without the imagination of the animators. Still, I did find myself coming back to this short just to get a better look at the details in the often beautiful, always ominous city that Carlos Nine constructs.

There is often one short film in the batch that doesn't seem to hold up beside the rest. The last short is not necessarily it, but it definitely comes with its own set of issues. Like the first two shorts, "My Broken-Hearted Buenos Aires" by Caloi and Maria Veronica Ramirez tells a story through the animation itself and is nearly void of dialogue. The short, as a whole, gives a creative interpretation of the the evolution of Buenos Aires, beginning with a pack of horny settlers eyeing a native woman while planting miniature cities into the land. Watered by dog piss, these cities erupt into major metropolitans, with towering skyscrapers shooting up out of the ground. In the beginning, we follow a bird as it travels through the city. He avoids the buildings and streets that seem to come at him on all sides. It seems like this will be our protagonist, but he's not, because he barely appears once we're taken to a local bar. Then it's about a bartender, surrounded by customers who can't stop thinking about a sexy woman in a red polka dotted dress.

The style of the artwork is interesting. The scenery is filled with color, while the people remain primarily in black and white. The scenery also adapts to reflect the mood of the characters. A cross walk becomes a piano as a musician crosses the street and one streetlight curves to better suit a mysteriously cool onlooker with a cowboy hat. Essentially, the problem with this short is not the animation style, nor is it the writers' lack of creative ideas. In fact, the problem is that they have too many. It seems they were unsure of which story they wanted to choose and so decided to include every one. In the end, we have the sequence with the bird, an emphasis on a man strung to his crumbling broken heart and a pissed off bartender, obsessed with ending other men's fantasies. Some side stories have limited value to the story, existing for comedic sake, while others mean little to the narrative at all, until everybody is wrapped into a chuckle-worthy but predictable ending.

It's always interesting to see what vastly different creative minds will churn out when presented with the same basic theme. Anima Buenos Aires, which was directed and produced by Maria Veronica Ramirez, successfully brings together talented artists, with vastly different voices, to present their own interpretations of one city. As stated earlier, there is often at least one short in an anthology film that provokes little reaction aside from a scoff and an eye-roll. Each of the four shorts in Anima Buenos Aires is so unique, with its own separate appeal that we never really get that "ah-ha" moment. With such a varied collection of tones, ideas and styles, there just might be something here for everyone, making this film worth sharing.

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