Monsieur Cok

London International Animation Festival

27 August-6 September 2009

Various venues, London

LIAF website

The London International Animation Festival, now in its sixth edition, brought a treasure trove of animated wonders to the capital from August 27 to September 6. One of the most interesting programmes was their selection of highlights from the 2008 Siggraph Asia festival, a yearly event that showcases the most innovative computer graphics from around the world. The films were a mixture of music videos, ads, technical demonstrations of animation processes as well as narrative shorts to reflect the variety of material presented at Siggraph Asia. The more corporate or technical films were the least interesting, but the others demonstrated a breadth and richness of vision that impressed this – until now – CGI-phobe writer.

There was a number of Gothic-toned films in the selection, starting with the predictable but enjoyable Emily by Kim Leow (Canada), which told the story of a girl who seems to have the ideal parents because she can do everything she wants, until a dark twist reveals why at the end. Guy Bar’ely’s Cycle (USA) told the surprisingly affecting story of a father dealing with guilt, remembering the events leading to a terrible tragedy as he sits on an underground train. The winner of the best film award at the Siggraph Asia festival, Smith and Foulkes’s This Way Up (UK), which follows the misadventures of two undertakers as they try to take the coffin of a grand-mother to the cemetery, was funny, deliciously macabre and brilliantly animated – it was not hard to see why it won the award. This Way Up, Cycle and Emily all used the conventional type of CGI character that we have become accustomed to, but The Horrors’ video for She Is the New Thing by C Hardy (UK) used a completely different style: messy, scribbled animated drawings depicted the band being attacked and torn apart by a ghoulish woman. It was a great horror short, dark, bloody and with a suitably gruesome ending.

Also different in style was F Dion and R van den Boom’s Monsieur Cok (France). One of the longest films at 9’45, it was a satirical denunciation of the connection between war and big industry. Seemingly set during the First World War, it shows how the egg-shaped Monsieur Cok substitutes robots to the workers in his factory, who are then picked up and placed onto the conveyor belts to be turned into soldiers. But the chillingly well-oiled system is threatened when an angry, straggly, bearded former worker comes back from the war with both legs amputated, determined to make his protest heard by Monsieur Cok. Inventive, detailed and using all shades of grey to create the oppressive atmosphere of a world where beating the system seems hopelessly impossible, Monsieur Cok was one of the most accomplished films in the selection.

At the opposite end of the chromatic scale, Taku Kimura’s Kudan (Japan) was a colourful and super-quirky fable illustrating the necessity of communicating with those nearest to us through the tale of a bonzai-obsessed father who pays no attention to his son. A mysterious bell-shaped hat is delivered to their house and when the father puts it on he is taken to another world where people grow in glowing plant pots. Strange tentacular creatures float around armed with scissors, ready to sever the plants, killing the humans connected to them. As his son’s plant is about to get cut off, the father manages to save him and they both find themselves safely back home, pink letters excitedly coming out of their mouths, the father having finally learnt the joys of talking to his son.

Another outlandish delight came courtesy of the Croatian T Jantol. Wizard of OS: The Fish Incident presented itself as the remaining footage of an experiment called the Fish Incident. A golden-eyed man in a metal body hanging from a bizarre implement attached to something resembling a computer menu bar seemed to be having an ongoing battle with a fish adorned with the design of an ancient map, the various episodes taking place in different fantastical environments. It was strange, enigmatic and fascinating, and the opacity of the meaning only made this writer want to watch it again.

Finally, Martina Stiftinger’s Onde Sonore (Austria) was one of the true gems of the programme. A film she made for her thesis, it showed fish floating to the sound of music, which are left stranded as if out of water when the music stops and have to find some ingenious way of starting the gramophone again. Playing with circularity, mechanical devices and repetitive cycles, it was beautifully animated, poetic, original and quite magical.

Virginie Sélavy