Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Emotions here are betrayed by the twitch of a knife, a violent dream, an envelope crumpled in a hand or a long toke on a cigarette."

The sheer range of physical material available to a stop-motion animator is part of what makes it so much more emotionally immediate than other animation. We all know what certain fabrics and items feel like to the touch, so the animator can use everything from fuzzy felt to sandpaper to tune us immediately into the feeling they want to generate - from the cutesy fun of Wallace and Gromit to the surreal adventures of the Quay brothers and  Jan Švankmajer.

We're firmly at the adult Švankmajer end of the spectrum here and it's porcelain dolls' heads that do the conjuring, suggesting a toy on the one hand, something which, thanks to what a thousand films have taught us, can be benign or sinister, implacable yet, paradoxically, fragile. The expression on Hugo Covarrubias' protagonist doesn't change throughout this 15-minute short, although we meet her when she has already sustained a crack - damage that we are about to take a psychological survey of as we travel inside her head.

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It's not immediately obvious what this woman, with her fuzzy dog in tow, does at the house she goes to each morning, although what goes on there soon seen to be in sharp contrast to the apparent normality of her more general existence. Based on the real story of Ingrid Olderöck, a DINA secret police agent who became known as "the lady of the dogs" because of her specific heinous mode of torturing victims,  Covarrubias, though viewing the situation from her perspective, has little sympathy for the devil.

Emotions here are betrayed by the twitch of a knife, a violent dream, an envelope crumpled in a hand or a long toke on a cigarette as guilt and deniability flicker at the back of her mind. Her glossy head may not betray her feelings but its mirror-like quality is asking for a deeper reflection on a regime where the faceless helped thousands disappear. The director doesn't hold back with his imagery, the violence and bestiality made more disturbing when slotted into a domestic context of cake baking and dog walking.

Covarrubias - whose short took the top animation prize at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival - invites us to consider not just the banality of evil, but the way it moves through our world, often looking just like the rest of us.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2021
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A trip into the psyche of a Chilean torturer.

Director: Hugo Covarrubias

Writer: Hugo Covarrubias, Martín Erazo

Year: 2021

Runtime: 15 minutes

Country: Chile

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