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From its Late Night Bizarre program restricted to adults over 18 to the B&W Oscar nominated noir drama from the Czech Republic, Alois Nebel, this year’s Sydney International Animation Festival is a showcase of the freshest Australian and international animations. Andrew L. Urban reports.

What makes the Czech animated drama Alois Nebel special is – in part – it’s subject matter. Directed by Tom Lunak, Oscar-nominated Alois Nebel is based on the first modern graphic novel to be published in the Czech Republic. Set in the European summer of 1989, Alois Nebel tells the tale of a lonely train dispatcher at a small station on the border with Poland. Sometimes, when the fog rolls in, he is haunted by ghosts from the dark days of 1945.

The setting has deep resonance for its people, and for Europe; after the war, the entire German population of the region was expelled by government decree. It’s a scar on the Czech psyche, still felt. The character Alois Nebel is loosely based on the grandfather – a railway switcher – of Jaroslav Rudis, author of the original graphic novel. 

"Animation is generally regarded as a medium for fantasy... Alois Nebel is none of these"

The railway is a powerful symbol in Europe, representing both the unity of Europe, but also its darker past uses during the war. 

Animation is generally regarded as a medium for fantasy, family films and colourful adventure. Alois Nebel is none of these. Nebel means fog in German, but backwards, ‘leben’ it means life. And it’s a stranger who offers Alois ‘leben’.

What else makes it special is the sheer artistry of the animation and its haunting, melancholy mood. Taken from its source, the graphic novel, its dark shadows and stark whites provide great visual drama, to match the content. (In that respect it’s reminiscent of Sin City, Robert Rodriguez’ film adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel with stunning results.)

Remarkably fluid animation – look at the black station cat coming to her milk bowl, see how Alois moves to look at his watch – and beautiful framing make this a sheer pleasure to watch. It is at once photorealistic … and artistic (to be prosaic), but its naturalism stops at aping every detail. The animation is so refined, so subtle and expressive we can rely on the faces of the characters to tell us about their character and their thoughts, their feelings. 

"a grown up movie"

With its rough characters and their graphic language, the film presents as very much a grown up movie – but it’s also mature in the real sense. Quite astonishing.

Alois Nebel screened in both the 2011 Venice film festival and at Toronto in 2012.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3pXE7BnYOc trailer

The festival is full of fascinating films, but it also has a special Teens workshop and will also host a presentation by Animal Logic’s Rob Coleman (Animation Director of Happy Feet 2) – how to balance business and creativity.

An Australian showcase, a kids program and a special 12-film tribute to the Royal College of Arts’ 25 years of animation fill out the three day affair at Sydney’s UTS.

"a collaborative production"

The festival is a collaborative production between UTS, Design Architecture & Building, Arts and Social Sciences and Engineering and IT faculties and its sister-festival Melbourne International Animation Festival. The festival aims to provide a platform for enthusiasts, students, academics and industry to engage in dialogue about animation and its practice in an open and participatory atmosphere.

Another feature film in the program is the wonderful A Monster in Paris, which is a stark contrast to Alois Nebel – and a delightful one. 

During an experiment a flea becomes a terror-inspiring monster, blessed with a wonderful singing voice and a heart of gold. A shy projectionist and a clever inventor set out to capture him, but end up joining forces to save him. Featuring the voices of Vanessa Paradis and Sean Lennon, A Monster in Paris is set in a glorious 1910 Parisian setting. Produced by veteran French filmmaker Luc Besson and directed by A Shark Tale's, Bibo Bergeon.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfMcbsE-kf8 trailer

Published October 4, 2012

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A Monster in Paris

Sydney International Animation Festival,
October 12 – 14, 2012;
University of Technology, Sydney.

Program details and tickets siaf.uts.edu.au

A Monster in Paris
Alois Nebel

Alois Nebel

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