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European Animation Grows Up With Mature Themes

European animated films continue to tackle weighty subject matter with diverse works aimed at older and more mature audiences.

A number of celebrated titles last year impressed by tackling historical, political and cultural subject matter in original ways, among them Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow’s European Film Award winner “Another Day of Life,” above, Denis Do’s “Funan,” which took the top prize in Annecy, and Nora Twomey’s “The Breadwinner,” which won a plethora of prizes around the globe.

This year the trend continues with new and upcoming projects that explore wide ranging subject matter, from such sobering themes as the plight of refugees, racism and war to lighter fare like surrealist cinema and quirky romance.

Norwegian director Mats Grorud tackles the politically charged topic of Palestinian refugees in “Wardi” (The Tower). The film follows an 11-year-old girl living with her family in a Beirut refugee camp who tries to keep alive her great-grandfather’s hope of someday returning to his long lost home in Galilee. The film, sold by Jour2Fête, is based on the testimonies of Palestinian refugees and combines 2D and puppet animation.

“We wanted to make a film about the passage of time — the past, the present and the future – to show how children are born into this camp without rights, as refugees,” says Grorud. “These people have suffered tremendously.”

French director Florence Miailhe likewise examines the subject of displaced people in “The Crossing.” Currently in production by France’s Les Films de l’Arlequin, Germany’s Balance Film and the Czech Republic’s Maur Film, the pic follows two children from a plundered village fleeing from pursuers as they make their way across a hostile continent in search of safe haven.

Examining troubling trends in Germany, Mohammad Farokhmanesh and Frank Geiger tell the story of children born into extreme right-wing families in “Little Germans,” a documentary from Hamburg-based Brave New Work, unspooling in the European Film Market’s Lola at Berlinale section.

Germany’s Nazi legacy is revisited in Ari Folman’s retelling of the story of Anne Frank. A European-Israeli co-production sold internationally by Wild Bunch, “Where Is Anne Frank?” follows Kitty, the imaginary friend Anne Frank wrote to in her diary, as she magically comes to life at the Anne Frank house in present-day Amsterdam, believing that Anne must be alive and determined to find her.

Simone Massi offers another tale about growing up in the face of fascism, war, resistance and emigration with “Tre Infanzie,” currently being developed by Paris-based Offshore and Rome’s Minimum Fax Media. The story chronicles the lives of three children at different times during the 20th century on the same farm in a village in Italy’s Marche region.

Moving away from darker themes and embracing the fantastic and surreal are works by Salvador Simó and Jérémy Clapin.

In “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles,” Simó chronicles Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s efforts to make his 1933 surrealist documentary “Las Hurdes” (Land Without Bread). The hand-drawn feature film, sold internationally by Madrid-based Latido Films, is based on Fermín Solís’ graphic novel of the same name.

Adapting Guillaume Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand,” Clapin’s fantastically absurd “I Lost My Body,” from Paris-based Xilam, follows a severed hand as it escapes from a medical facility in search of its body, that of a troubled young Moroccan immigrant in France.

Offering a lighter slice of modern life is Carlos Fernández’s “Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas,” likewise from Latido Film. The pic revolves around a 40-year-old man whose dream of working at home in his pajamas as a comic artist is disrupted when he falls in love with a girl.

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