It's Encounters week in Bristol, and as ever the festival has pulled together a bunch of disasters and triumphs in pretty much equal measure. The locality of this particular festival inevitably guarantees the inclusion of people I know, so there's usually a bit of a celebratory vibe in the air. Going back and forth between debilitating throat pain that sees me prone to screaming in old ladies' faces like that thing in 'Come To Daddy' and happy clappy co-analgesics that see me prone to drooling and giggling at cutlery, I've been mainly housebound and a little more selective in terms of which screenings I attend than in prior years. So far however there have been a few standout moments:A few others of note produced by the Animation Workshop include 'Project: Alpha', 'Trainbombing' and Nicole Gallagher's 'Sheep'. Who doesn't like sheep? The main draw so far was a showing of the new Adam Elliot film 'Mary & Max', a feature-length endeavour with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I've previously banged on about the excellence of Elliot's 'Brother'/'Cousin'/'Uncle' trilogy, as well as the fabulous 'Harvie Krumpet'. What ties each piece together are memories, accounts and stories that are fundamentally about living with mental illness.My absolute favourite, 'Cousin', describes perfectly the frustrations, limitations and awkwardness of cerebral palsy without the merest hint of condescension, and it's apt that his first feature would deal with Asperger's, the psychological disorder du jour*.
Hoffman distinguishes himself from most screen actors who, when voicing a cartoon do little more than provide a name with pulling-power to a movie poster. As Max he's authentic, funny and, at times, disquieting, portraying a social recluse who, when eventually diagnosed as an 'aspie' sees no reason to change. By chance he is randomly contacted by a young Australian girl in search of a pen friend, a relationship that appeals to him by virtue of distance. Over time they become one another's repository and their correspondence is soon associated with all the major events of their lives.I have to confess that I personally tainted this film (almost) with unfairly high expectations and consequently found my mind nitpicking at its small handful of flaws. After a few days though, these issues are pretty inconsequential. Possibly the story could have had better pacing, or the odd voice actor swapped out, or they might have taken it easy with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Any other issues were very quickly dwarfed by the strength of the dialogue, subject matter and affectionately crude visuals.
I don't see this film getting major distribution which, along with discovering the existence of a strange, two-headed creature named Jedward, is one of today's contributions to my list of Reasons To Welcome Death.If you can track it down it's very much worth the extra effort.
*I'm pretty certain a lot of successful animators I've met in the last couple years have some form of high-functioning autism - I suppose it goes hand in hand with all the time you need to spend alone in front of a lightbox, computer or set. Watching these creatures in social scenarios, one witnesses a bevy of awkward shuffling, one-word answers, avoidance of eye-contact and general ineptness that hangs in a room like a bad smell. Of course I behave that way a lot of the time too, but that's just 'cause I'm your run-of-the-mill dickhead.