Tagged: French

Chronopolis (1983)

Chronopolis is a 1983 stop-motion science fiction feature from Polish director Piotr Kamler.


The film’s sparse narrative involves a group of Immortal beings who inhabit a colossal city which sits above the clouds. The Immortals spend their time constructing, sculpting and bringing to life various forms of matter. A group of mortal explorers scale a tower, and one of them loses their grip and falls. After floating through the cloudy ether for some time, they land, unconcious, on a pipe. One of the Immortal’s creations, a living orb, wakes the unconcious figure. The figure and the orb begin to dance together and journey along the pipe. The pair eventually appear before three immortals which tower over them. The faces of the Immortals begin to pit and disintergrate, as do the walls of their city and their creations. The city is engulfed in a creeping darkness. The film concludes with the explorer and living orb moving along a line through a white void.

As far as narratives go this one is pretty loose, and the events that unfold throughout the film can be interpreted a number of ways. Kamler’s UbuWeb profile states itwell; “Completely unalike to more conventionally linear and text-based narratives, Kamler’s films instead explore a series of dynamic visual motifs.”. The narrative is set by an opening crawl which details the Immortals boredom and desire. Everything else is implied visually as there is no dialogue throughout the film. The original 1982 version had narration, however in the final cut the narration was removed.

Chronopolis drifts between the borders of abstraction and figurative representation. Often, you can tell you are looking at a physical object in  3-dimensional space, but the nature of the object is obscured and incomprehensible.

You really get the sense of great age in the design of the Immortals and their city. They exhibit small imperfections, marks and physical flaws throughout their seemingly inorganic forms. Their reserved movement also betrays age, or at least apathy.  The city’s old stone panels with intricate patterns and reliefs give a feeling that it might be from a time of early agrarian pre-history, or perhaps from a far off alien culture. The world of Chronopolis seems almost devoid of colour. The muted earthy tones, of concrete or stone are only ever punctuated by the occaisonal flashes of orange or red energy.

The inventiveness of the editing and compositing throughout Chronopolis is the work of a master. Both Kamler and the Immortal figures within the film playfully manipulate time. Kamler uses rapid jumpcuts, swiftly layered wipe transitions, microcuts and undulatinglight to create the sense that the city of Chronopolis follows it’s own laws of time and entropy.

The final shot in the film is particularly telling; a human figure walking in a void and a bouncing ball following. Perhaps this is a self-reflexive reference to the form of animation itself as two of the first sequences an animator will likely learn is the simple walk cycle, and the physical properties of a bouncing ball.

The version I viewed was the final cut which ran at 52 minutes however the original 1982 version runs at 66 minutes which I am keen to get my hands on. Chronopolis‘ production ran for 5 years, from 1977-1982 with Kamler completing most of the animation and editing himself. It’s interesting to note that he recieved a grant for $400,000 by utilising a script which had nothing to do with the final film.

Chronopolis is a film which might not appeal to many viewers due to it’s sparse narrative and recurring abstractions; however I really enjoyed the fascinating world Kamler created and his masterful use of the medium to self-reflexively examine the artform. Check it out.

-Hamish S

Weekly Inspiration #3 – René Laloux

This weeks weekly inspiration is Rene Laloux, one of the best minds of French animation. Laloux was born in Paris and went to art school to study painting. He ended up working in a psychiatric institution which is where he got his first taste of animation(where else!). While there he created the animated short Les Dents du Singe(Monkey’s Teeth) with help from the people at Paul Grimault’s studio(another giant of French animation).

Rene Laloux created several shorts and three feature length animations throughout his life, all displaying his distinct style. It’s surprisingly hard to dig up information on Laloux, as he seems to have followed other animators in keeping to the background in a media recluse kind of way.

I first saw Rene Laloux’s work when I was about 11-12 years old. I was bored one sunday afternoon and my family were off doing other things, so I was sitting on the floor flicking channels on the television. I flicked to one channel which was half way through a subtitled French animation about little people in an alien landscape who were waging war on their captors, a race of psychic blue giants. I was mesmerized and watched the film to the end, but was soon distracted by other things. The vivid scenes and other worldly sound design stayed in the back of my mind for years until when I was about 15 and had my own computer with internet that I began searching for it. I found out that the film was called ‘La planète sauvage(Fantastic Planet)and to this day it remains one of my favourite films. I also watched ‘Gandahar‘, Laloux’s final feature a few years ago. While it had interesting imagery I thought it lacked the depth of ‘La planète sauvage

‘La planète sauvage’ – Fantastic Planet

Gandahar

Somehow I missed seeing Laloux’s second feature ‘Les maîtres du temps(Time Masters)‘ until this weekend.  ‘Les maîtres du temps’ blew me away with it’s amazingly imaginative universe and simple yet powerful narrative. The art in the film was so intense that I was not surprised to find out that the late French comic genius Mœbius worked on the art design for the film. I could see easily see that animations like the ’91 tv series Aeon Flux took inspiration in the characteristics and design of Time Masters.

‘Les maîtres du temps’ – Time Masters

René Laloux died of a heart attack on March 14, 2004 at the ripe age of 74. His work and style will live on through those of us who consider him to be a strong influence. Please I implore you; find a spare couple of hours alone, turn the lights off and explore Laloux’s worlds!