Friday, May 15, 2015

At the Movies: "Song of the Sea" and "Until Sbórnia Do Us Part"

At the Movies with Michael5000

The high point of the cinematic year for Mrs.5000 and me is the Northwest Animation Festival, and this year it came around on the first week of May. The festival offers a rich bounty of animated shorts, of which I personally managed to watch well over a hundred during a six-day period. Short films are often tough to find, but you might be able to catch up with gems like A Single Life, The Dam Keeper, Smart Monkey, and The Elephant and the Bicycle, just to mention a few especially entertaining favorites.

Song of the Sea
Tomm Moore, 2014.

imbd score: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% (!) Fresh

Along with the shorts, though, this year’s festival offered two feature-length animated films. The first was Song of the Sea, a charming adventure fantasy from Tomm Moore, who also directed 2009’s The Secret of Kells. Both of Moore’s films use beautiful, highly stylized animation to tell stories about plucky children whose lives are disrupted by goings-on not only in the adult world, but also in the rich and strange mystical realm of Irish legend. In Song of the Sea, a brother and sister must leave the small island where they live with their father, a lighthouse keeper, after the little girl shows troubling signs – troubling to the grown-ups, anyway – of supernatural powers. After escaping from their grandmother’s house, the children are soon on an epic trek home across two Irelands, both the one we’re used to and the one populated by spirit beings.

Song of the Sea is often quite moving, but it also has lots of great comic moments – this was a fun film to watch in a theater with bona fide children on hand to laugh unrestrainedly at the funny bits. It features a large cast of supporting supernatural beings, each with its own interesting individual personality and charm. Of the human characters, I especially admired the film's treatment of the grandmother. Although she is a villain in the story, more or less, this stern woman also loves the children in her own grouchy-grandma way. A solid screenplay, skillful animation, and good voice acting give us a surprisingly nuanced picture of her as someone who does all the wrong things – wrong at least from the standpoint of the plot – for all the right reasons.

Prognosis: I highly recommend Song of the Sea to children and to smart adults like yourself. I particularly recommend it to the kind of adult who felt cheated when the Lord of the Rings movies left out Tom Bombadil.

Michael 5000's imdb rating: 9.

Until Sbórnia Do Us Part
Otto Guerra & Ennio Torresan, 2013.

imbd score: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: No entry.

The other feature-length offering was Até que a Sbórnia nos Separe – variously translated as Until Sbórnia Do Us Part and Until Sbornia Takes Us Apart – a strange, satiric Brazilian fable that gives us some idea how The Simpsons might have looked if Jorge Luis Borges had been its lead writer. Here’s the setup: Sbórnia is a little island country lying just off the coast of Brazil, with an eccentric, vaguely Eastern European culture all its own. It is separated from the “continente” and the rest of the world by a high stone wall. When the wall is knocked down by a powerful stray shot from a game of “axeball,” the national sport, Sbórnia abruptly loses its isolation. An industrialist from the continent discovers the hallucinogenic herb that Sbórnians drink in place of tea, and immediately sets up a global conglomerate to bottle the stuff as a soft drink on a massive scale. As the bulldozers and cement trucks roll in, the traditional Sbórnian way of life, like so many ways of life before it, enters a period of rapid change.

All of the above is background to the antics of two Sbórnian musicians, one of whom is a dour member of a spectacularly hidebound and procedural association of anarchists, the other a lovelorn extrovert with an ungovernable passion for the industrialist’s winsome daughter. As the one tries to protect his family from moral decay and the other tries to save his beloved from a hilariously inappropriate arranged marriage – so that she can, unwisely, marry him – innumerable hijinks ensue. It is all a ton of fun, especially the many, many quirky details of Sbórnian culture that go unremarked in the background. Lively “Sbórnian” ethnic music keeps things moving at a rollicking pace.

Prognosis: Song of the Sea and Until Sbórnia Do Us Part are very different films. The first is lyrical, lovely to look at, and fun for the whole family. The second is manic and mapcap, plays a bit rough, and assumes that you’ve already done a bit of thinkin’ about the human condition in the age of globalization. They share the virtues of imaginative animation, strong storytelling, and the capacity of allowing you to live for a while in strange, intricately imagined worlds. It’s going to be pretty tough to find a copy of Until Sbórnia Do Us Part, but if you can track it down you’ll probably be glad you did.

Michael 5000's imdb rating: 9.

Also Mentioned:
  • The Secret of Kellsimbd: 7.6.  Michael 5000: 9.
  • A Single Life.  imbd: 7.5.  Michael 5000: 9.
  • The Dam Keeperimbd: 7.9.  Michael 5000: 9.
  • Smart Monkeyimbd: 7.1.  Michael 5000: 8.
  • The Elephant and the Bicycle.  imbd: None(!)  Michael 5000: 8, in theory.


DrSchnell said...

I loved Song of the Sea, though I definitely feel it is one of those that will benefit from a re-watching. Reminds me a bit of Miyazaki's films (like Totoro) where the mythic is always lurking in the corners. Secret of Kells was also great - Tomm Moore is now on my short list of automatically-see-it movie making folks.

Michael5000 said...

Doc Schnell: You would love Sbórnia, if you're ever able to see it. It's all geographical.