London International Animation Festival | 'A Rapid Love Story'
Some films delight; others terrify. Some films evoke tragedy; others celebrate the human spirit. And some films get you leaning back into your chair, eyebrows arched, stroking your beard (if you don't have a beard, one spontaneously appears on your chin) and wondering just what the heck you just watched. 'Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: A Rapid Love Story' is a beard stroking film.
Hailing from Estonia, a country with a rich tradition of outrageous animation, Rapid Love Story is the brainchild of animator Mait Laas. Its style stands in stark contrast to the west: where our animated films tend to feature straightforward stories about fictionalised persons in fantasy landscapes dealing with variations on generic troubles, much of eastern animation goes for the throat, and often has explicit political and cultural targets.
Rapid Love Story begins with a rickety boat, kept afloat by oil drums, departing at night from a country embroiled in conflict. The boat is stuffed with refugees – dishevelled, frightened, desperate. A baby cries, the others attempt to silence it, afraid of discovery. Out at sea, they dream of their destination – a land of wealth, skyscrapers and peace.
This is a film about refugees but, very specifically, about the modern wave of refugees, the ones who cross from Cuba or Africa in ships that sink as often as they float. Refugees attempting to sneak under the great invisible walls of border guards, anti-immigration policies and ruthless exploitation that surround the dreams that Europe and the west represent to the developing world. In short, this is a film unafraid to tackle big issues. That it is an opera, and the immigrants are people with oranges for heads, are some of the elements that lead to the beard stroking.
Feature length animations are rare in Estonia, and Mait Laas has chosen stop-motion animation as his medium; a long, costly process that requires the building of miniature sets, puppets and, often, specially designed cameras and lighting. The oranges arrive in Europe (though the country is never named, it appears, from the lingo, to be Italy) travelling through beaches, roads and factories that have been, it must be remembered, entirely made from scratch. Clearly this was a project born of commitment and ambition.
Yet the tone of the film is strange – at times lightly comical, and with bright and cheerful character designs, we are suddenly plunged into quite distressing scenes of drowned immigrants being chewed to pieces by crabs (yes, really) or a captured hero literally enslaved and forced to pick oranges in a hedge maze (yes, really). If the general look of the film implies a child audience, I can only assume that Estonian children are made of sterner stuff than their English counterparts.
Yet for all its shifts in tone and odd creative decisions (and, it must be said, a cluttered ending that doesn’t quite land dramatically) I spent much of the film wearing a smile above that well-stroked beard. I may never have seen anything like it... but surely that's a good thing.
'Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: A Rapid Love Story'