×

‘Rocks in My Pockets’

This imaginative animated memoir reps a fascinating and very personal debut feature from Latvia-born, U.S.-based director Signe Baumane.

With:
Narrator: Signe Baumane.

Boasting a narrative of extraordinary complexity and density, stuffed with irony, humor and tales-within-tales, the imaginative animated memoir “Rocks in My Pockets” merges a mini-history of 20th-century Latvia with that of helmer Signe Baumane and her forebears. Along the way, it provides a fascinating and very personal look at mental illness, as well as familial and societal dictates and dynamics. Following the film’s world preem in competition at Karlovy Vary, boutique arthouse distributor Zeitgeist will bow this modern milestone in animated storytelling in New York and Los Angeles in September. Nationwide play will follow.

Inspired by animators such as Jan Svankmajer (for his surrealism) and Bill Plympton (for his silliness), Latvia-born, U.S.-based director Baumane employs a unique, beautifully textured combination of papier-mache stop-motion and classic hand-drawn animation for this feature debut, which required more than 30,000 drawings. Her colorful visuals are enhanced by passionate, stream-of-consciousness-like narration in her own heavily accented English.

Like many families, Baumane’s has its share of skeletons in the closet — secrets and disappointments hidden from outsiders and, indeed, from other family members. But her problems with depression impel her to investigate more thoroughly the DNA she inherited, despite resistance from her kinsmen.

All trails (and tales) lead back to her grandmother Anna, whose legendary beauty and intelligence appear in the offspring of her eight children. But so, too, do Anna’s depressive tendencies and self-destructive acts. Although Baumane doesn’t make an issue of it, her descriptions of Anna’s much older husband, the entrepreneur Indoless (who, with his amazing history, deserves a feature of his own), match the classic symptoms of a manic-depressive with delusions of grandeur.

Unusually for the 1920s, Anna’s conservative Latvian family scrimped and saved to educate her, but didn’t support her when she abandoned her opportunities in order to marry Indoless. Always concerned about what the neighbors would say, they came from the “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it” school, where one must live with one’s choices no matter the personal cost.

When Indoless left Riga with Anna, installing her in an isolated farmhouse near a forest, their ever-growing family suffered through WWII and occupation by the Russians, Germans and Russians again. Over the years, Anna was the one who ensures their survival. As Baumane recounts the memories of Anna’s offspring regarding her near-superhuman abilities (hauling 40 buckets of water a day up a hill to supply the family and livestock), we see the cartoon Anna going about her chores, watched over by two spirits — one that lives in the river and one in the forest. The former represents the will to die, the latter the nourishing possibilities of the woods.

These spirits also appear in the stories of Baumane’s beautiful and talented female cousins who wind up in mental hospitals, overmedicated by the Soviet system (the practices of which come in for scathingly funny criticism). The spirits also fight over Baumane, but luckily, she finds the internal strength to defy both her genetic and societal heritage.

Like Baumane’s earlier shorts, the years-in-the-making “Rocks in My Pockets” is fiercely feminist. It opposes opportunity and responsibility, and questions why women should have to please people at the expense of their dreams. Some of the images, such as that of a woman trapped under a bell jar while her husband watches from outside, perfectly epitomize marriage as experienced by Anna and her female descendants. Meanwhile, apt turns of phrase in the spoken narration (e.g., “My mind feels like a badly wired building”) make mental illness seem less alien.

Unfolding at an almost breathless pace, the film boasts aces tech contributions across the board.

Popular on Variety

'Rocks in My Pockets'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 7, 2014. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: (Animated — U.S.-Latvia) A Zeitgeist Films (in U.S.) of a Signe Baumane Studio production. (International sales: Film New Europe, Warsaw.) Produced by Baumane. Co-producer, Sturgis Warner.

Crew: Directed, written, edited by Signe Baumane. (Color); editor, Wendy Cong Zhao; music, Kristian Sensini; voiceover director, Sturgis Warner; color designer, Rashida Nasir; stop-motion animators, Sam Hayes, Jessica Polaniecki, Angela Stempel, Warner, Eriq Wities; production artists, Mike Zecca, Maria Yukhananov, Ivey Ao, Samantha Blaha, Adrielle Farr, Ingo Raschka, Val Potanka, Jaclyn Dalbey, Cheres Espinosa; sound designer (stereo), Weston Fonger.

With: Narrator: Signe Baumane.

More Film

  • Dan Stevens

    Dan Stevens Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    “Legion” star Dan Stevens has joined the cast of Netflix feature “Eurovision,” alongside Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams and Pierce Brosnan. The British actor, who made his name in “Downton Abbey” and recently finished a three-year run on FX’s “X-Men” spin-off “Legion” from Noah Hawley, will play Alexander Lemtov, a Russian contestant taking part in the [...]

  • THE-SONG-OF-NAMES

    Tim Roth, Clive Owen-Starrer 'The Song Of Names' To Close San Sebastian

    Starring Clive Owen and Tim Roth, Canadian François Girard’s historical drama “The Song of Names” will close the 67th San Sebastian Festival on Sept. 28. World premiering at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival as a Gala Presentation, “The Song of Names” will play out of competition at what will be its international premiere. Hanway Films [...]

  • Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Doc

    Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Documentary ‘The Kingmaker’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Dogwoof has boarded Lauren Greenfield’s “The Kingmaker,” about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines. The hotly anticipated feature doc delves into the disturbing legacy of the Marcos regime and Imelda’s attempts to aid her son’s political career. It will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and then screen at [...]

  • Yao Chen in “Send Me to

    Cheng Cheng Films Nabs North American Rights to China's 'Send Me to the Clouds'

    New York-based distributor Cheng Cheng Films has acquired North American rights to first-time Chinese director Teng Congcong’s comedy drama “Send Me to the Clouds,” starring and produced by A-list actress Yao Chen. The company is planning a theatrical release for fall 2019. “Cheng Cheng has always championed films with strong female leads,” the firm said [...]

  • A White White Day

    Film Movement Brings ‘A White, White Day’ to the U.S. (EXCLUSIVE)

    OSLO  —  New-York based distributor Film Movement has acquired U.S. rights to critically-lauded Icelandic drama “A White, White Day,” today’s opening film at New Nordic Films in Haugesund. In a separate deal, sales agent New Europe Film Sales has closed French-speaking Canada with Funfilm and English-speaking Canada with Game Theory. Hlynur Pálmason’s sophomore pic, “A [...]

  • (from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)

    Korea Box Office: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Topples ‘Exit,’ ‘Roar to Victory’  

    Opening on Wednesday, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. Showing on some 1,311 screens nationwide, the UPI release earned $15.1 million from 2.03 million admissions over five days. That included the four-day National Liberation Day weekend. “The Battle: Roar to Victory” remained in second. The [...]

  • Tracy Morgan Netflix stand-up special

    Film News Roundup: Tracy Morgan Joins Eddie Murphy's 'Coming 2 America'

    In today’s film news roundup, Tracy Morgan and Michael Rooker book roles in major movies, and Gravitas buys “Christmas Break-In.” CASTINGS Tracy Morgan has signed on to appear in Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America” sequel as the brother of Lesley Jones’ character. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is directing the project with Murphy, Kevin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content