The Island


Reviewed by: Antoni Konieczny

The Island
"Damian’s visual treat of a film offers contemplation on ecological disaster, capitalism, and solitude, all within a story that could be described as a surreal anthology of images."

“Don’t you want to share your solitude with me?” asks this film’s version of Robinson Crusoe. Directing this question to the film’s prospective audience would surely bring varying answers. Alienated by the project’s inherent surrealism and fragmentation, a number of viewers could potentially decline to partake. Anca Damian’s animated feature, however, will reward with visual splendor those willing to immerse themselves in its world.

Robinson’s island is nothing like its literary counterpart. The waters surrounding it appear tainted and the island itself plays host to a very different cast of characters than the original, featuring refugees, border guards, and garbage dumps. A number of these visitors echo global issues plentifully woven into the fabric of this otherwise whimsical spectacle. Damian’s visual treat of a film offers contemplation on ecological disaster, capitalism, and solitude, all within a story that could be described as a surreal anthology of images.

Unsurprisingly, the feature’s greatest strength is its visuals. A mix of digital and cut-out animation, the world called up by Damian and her collaborators makes it easy for the viewers to lose themselves in it. Among numerous captivating sequences, as Friday back crawls and the camera pulls up away from him revealing a city hidden underneath the ocean’s surface, the effect is nothing short of hypnotising. The film also makes effective use of contrasts wherein soothing musical bits clash with upsetting, real-life-inspired iconography or a sickly color palette, one lending the island a chemical quality and consequently furthering the animation’s pressing symbolism. The relationship between the spectacle’s conflicting components can be demanding, but the filmmakers make sure one will not be able to keep their eyes off the screen.

In terms of its tonal character, for a comedy - or at least that’s one of the labels the project’s descriptions and the director invoke - the film is not necessarily funny. While there is a considerable degree of playfulness to the absurdist events that unfold on screen, their theatricality renders them a spectacle more prone to be marveled at than hysterically laughed or even grinned at. This, per se, is not a defect, but rather a result of the film’s origin - Damian explains that her first inspiration was a concert (based on Gellu Naum's play titled The Island). However, those primarily hoping for laughs will have expectations that may not be met.

As is often the case with the more surreal spectacles, the film provides its viewers with little opportunity to develop an intimate connection with the characters or the wider narrative, an approach that may seem counterintuitive given the filmmakers’ concern with global issues. The emphasis is on a plethora of allusions and bizarre setpieces, some more overwhelming than others. The film succeeds, though, as a poetic and ever so bonkers journey through strange realities. It may not be haunting, which it had the potential to be, but there is much to be praised about its willingness to take risks and juggle what should be at odds - the beautiful and the terrifying - to create a little bit of visual magic.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2022
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A surreal comedy based on a reinterpretation of Robinson Crusoe.

Director: Anca Damian

Writer: Anca Damian, Augusto Zanovello

Starring: Voiced by, Alexander Balanescu, Lucian Ionescu, Cristina Juncu, Ada Milea

Year: 2021

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Romania, Belgium, France


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