Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

02:15:00 pm , 1031 words, 1931 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

In the Attic

It's not surprising that legendary Czech stop-motion animator Jirí Barta's 2009 feature-length film In the Attic never made it to my neck of the woods, but it's a crying shame, because it's a fantastic little film that will delight anyone who sees it, young or old.

A better contrast with $9.99 there couldn't be: Both recent stop-motion films, but both as different as can be, and great in their own way. Even in stop-motion, the possibilities are limitless.

Where $9.99 is literary adult fare with a clean and polished style that mimics real life, In the Attic is exuberant fantasy full of imaginative creature creations. It revels in that basic thrill of stop-motion animation - mashing assorted odds and ends together and breathing life into them. My one reservation about $9.99 was that it lacked this basic thrill, with its low-key animation and monotone style. In the Attic is absolutely chock full of that thrill, packed with a boundless array of interesting ideas for bringing things to life. It's a very tactile film, full of all sorts of textures, patterns, shapes, delicate gradients of light, mottled and faded colors.

This film is a proud addition to the long, great tradition of Czech stop-motion animation dating back to Jiri Trnka. It's pretty remarkable to see that stop-motion films like this are still being made, as it feels so of another time, which is not to say out of date. It feels like the wind of another age. It's great that Barta continues to carry on this great tradition.

Barta has been known for his very individual style, and although I'm not too familiar with his work, you can clearly sense the touch of an auteur here. You sense this basic approach to animation that underpins most of them, yet each of the great Czech masters is an artist with his own unique vision, and Barta is no different. In the Attic reminds vaguely of a Svankmajer, but a Svankmajer who has put aside the slabs of meat and carcasses and decided to make a delightful film for children. Barta seems good at creating a highly detailed world whose every element seems alive, a dynamic and imaginative fantasy space.

In the world of In the Attic, the attic is a microcosm that comes alive with strange creatures when the humans aren't looking. A doll keeps house in an old suitcase. A toy train picks up passengers at a toy train station. Pillows float up out of drawer as rising stormheads and snow pillow feathers. Pigeons in the rafters become falcons on high espying the valley floor, where torrents of bedsheets flow down the canyons between an old dresser and table left to collect dust.

All of this takes place in an actual attic, using the actual objects one might find lying forgotten. Humans come and go in the same space in which these beings are animated, which is very fun to watch. It's a strange hybrid of reality and fantasy. Rather than being a world of pure fantasy, it's as if the actual objects of this dingy and dirty world had randomly reassembled and come alive from the spot where they'd been left in the attic. There's a certain mystery in the air about whether they are aware of each other, or whether they're like mythical elves - creatures who come out to play only when humans can't see them, like the materialized imaginings of a child.

The protagonists consist of a wad of putty with a pencil nub for a nose and a bottle cap for a hat, who stretches when he walks and splatters when he falls; a bedraggled teddy bear who sleeps in an old slipper; a Don Quixote-like marionnete who sleeps in a box with a picture of a knight in armor by night and fights pneumatic toy dragons by day; and a homely antique girl's doll who is the homemaker for this motley crew.

Without spoiling the story, I'll merely say that the film sees them embark on an adventure across the perilous landscape of the attic. They enlist the aid of the attic mouse, a junkyard packrat and electronics expert who runs the attic radio station, in whose hands a vacuum cleaner becomes an aeroplane that speeds them along to their destination. The journey is fraught with danger, and along the way they must traverse mountains and rivers and combat villains made of old shrivelled potatoes, dirty natty wads of string, old gloves, and seething hydra made of a wad of putty stuck full of nails and electric clamps. There are so many clever ideas packed into this film. I couldn't get enough of it and wished it lasted a bit longer.

The film is a rich mixture of different approaches to movement, with each of the characters requiring a different method of movement suited to their body's construction. On top of this, steam from a bubbling kettle and ripples in a stream of bedsheets are added on with hand-drawn animation, creating a rich mixture of live-action, stop-motion and hand-drawn animation.

There's no attempt to make these creatures seem real. The jarring heterogeneity of everything is the whole point. That's the difference with a lot of other stop-motion animation I've seen from other parts of the world, where they try to create this stylistically uniform and homogenous world, as if to convince you that you're seen real creatures. In this film, and other Czech animation, it seems to me like you're supposed to be fully aware that the object that's being animated is a dead slab of meat, or a ratty old teddy bear, or a decrepit old doll. You're supposed to enjoy the fact that these unlikely things are coming alive, not try to hide it. And they combine expressive forms that elsewhere are left distinct - actual human beings walking by pieces of detritus writhing around on the floor in stop motion. I love the delicate balance this creates: a film for children, but with a very grungy and hard-edged look and feel. This is a paragon of the kind of film I most admire, where the style is the substance, where the media is intrinsically tied to the story and theme.



Niffiwan [Visitor]  

I’ve wanted to see this film for a while. How did you find it?

03/16/10 @ 20:58
pete [Member]

i have also the dvd with barta’s main features.the pied piper is his apex and cant be surpassed anyway. Wasnt he also supposed to finish ‘the golem’? Was it canceled?
Its been a while since i last heard of him so i was surprised to find a new feature. I’ll watch it when i get the chance.

03/20/10 @ 11:50

The golem was canceled. Barta didn´t get the funds. In the attic is a more “commercial” project.

03/22/10 @ 02:05
pete [Member]

Recently i saw the movie ‘mozart in china’.it featured stop motion sequences by czech animator aurel klimt. A dialog between a puppet of mozart, talking in german and a chinese shadow theater princess, talking in chinese.
This scene is not easy to forget. One of the best childrens movies to come out recently

04/15/10 @ 11:20
Ben [Visitor]  

I will try to see the Pied Piper next and see how the two films compare. I also need to see his short films. I loved this film.

Pete, thanks for mentioning Mozart in China. I’d like to see that. Coincidentally, I just watched the first segment of Fimfarum lastnight, and it was wonderful. I can’t wait to see the rest. There are so many great artists of stop motion animation still making great films in the Czech Republic.

04/15/10 @ 12:11
Niffiwan [Visitor]  

“In the Attic” may be a more “commercial” project, and I admit that as a big fan of Barta’s earlier work, I was just a touch disappointed when I heard that.

However, I just saw it, and there was absolutely no reason to be vary. This film is simply amazing. It’s incredible, coming from the very best Czech traditions.

I enjoyed it just as I enjoyed the animated feature “A Town Called Panic", not that they’re all that similar, but they do share a few important common traits.

Also, it was so incredibly professional. I really hope that the Czech public is appreciating the talent they have.

11/20/10 @ 22:10