This is Shortcakes, our mostly weekly look at the best in animated short films. Each week, we seek out a newly released short that blows us away and deserves a closer look.
This week’s pick isn’t newly created, but it is new to you and us. ATARAXYA has been making the rounds at film festivals for a couple of years and picking up awards everywhere it goes. The piece was finally released for public consumption on Vimeo, and now we (the little people!) can finally enjoy it.
Creators: Maxime Hélier, Guilherme Pereira, Marion Chopin, Sophie Loubière, Carla Gandolfi
Watch the film first.
A depressed protagonist, a mysterious girl, and thumping techno. All of this leads up to a drug trip through the body and mind, more questions than answers, and an intense desire to learn more.
It’s entirely up to the viewer’s interpretation what has actually happened by the end of the film. Did the protagonist imagine everything? Did the girl wake him up from a Matrix-inspired coma? Is he dead? Or did he just go on a crazy drug trip?
Although the filmmakers don’t give us any real explanations, the journey is utterly captivating. As we go further and further into the protagonist’s mind, the symbolism of the Blue Pig becomes more and more overpowering. By the end, he literally climbs inside the animal, struggling to escape from what can only be his personal demons.
My personal take? There was no girl. The man is addicted to a drug called Blue Pig, and he takes some while sitting on the bus. The bags under the eyes and the generally strung-out look support this theory.
The stunning transition into live-action at the end could mean a number of things, but my thought is that he overdosed and died on the bus. He has a moment of clarity just before the end, represented by the draining water, and then is overtaken by darkness.
That final transition is just the final trick in a long series of amazing feats of animation. Throughout the film, the people look so good that the ending takes a moment to settle in. One wonders at first if the real man is simply another animation, at least until he turns his head and stares into the camera.
The voice over by Guilherme Pereira is a little tough to understand (I ended up turning on subtitles), but the tone is utterly perfect. Although the listless narration might have endured some ridicule in a lesser film, here it draws us in further. We’re so enraptured by the stunning art and the intriguing story that we want to hear more.
It’s a bit like the stereotypical French art films of years past, updated for the modern age. It’s an avant-garde short for people who devoted serious thought to The Matrix and 12 Monkeys.
The team that created ATARAXYA is young but is already attracting attention. It’s no surprise that the film has won multiple awards, and we’ll be watching closely to see what’s next from this group.