Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance surprise no 113: a chunk of clay can make me cry.

This year, the Sundance opening film was a first in more than one way. It was the first Australian film and the first animated film to ever open Sundance. The movie was Mary and Max from writer/director Adam Elliott. Loosely based on Elliott’s own 20-year correspondence with a pen pal, this movie tells the story of two misfits living on opposite sides of the planet. Mary Dinkle lives in Australia and through an act of happenstance, begins a correspondence with Max Horowitz, who lives in New York City. The film covers their relationship as it unfolds over multiple decades.

The stop-motion animation is stunning. As he introduced the film, the director noted that no computer generated effects were used in the film—it was made entirely “in camera.” A fact that seems impossible once you see the movie. (Elliott also noted that the water effects in the movie were made using over “ 60 tubes of sexual lubricant.”)

Even more brilliant than the animation is the art direction. Australia is cast as a land of browns (Mary’s favorite color) and sepia tones. While New York is a city of cold grays. The hand-drawn nature of many elements in the film and the stylized characters added to the melancholy beauty of the film.

This is like no other animated movie I’ve seen. Sure there are plenty of things to make you laugh. But there are also many darker moments filled with sadness. In the end, the movie provides a ray of hope for anyone who’s ever felt like an outcast. And I’ll admit, I had to wipe away a tear or two.

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