Dalibor Barić’s audacious “Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus” is a welcome reminder that “animated” carries more than one meaning. While it’s true that the Croatian filmmaker’s experimental lulu employs such methods as rotoscoping and collage, it’s also vibrant and alive in a way that few films falling under the wide umbrella of animation even attempt to be. And though the audience for elliptical fare of this nature tends to be self-selecting, anyone willing to get on Barić’s wavelength will find the experience strangely rewarding.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a man named Martin attempting to outrun the same oppressive system he unsuccessfully fought against alongside a conceptual artist named Sara; on the other end of that pursuit is one Inspector Ambroz. The story has more than a touch of noir to it, but just as prominent as this defiantly loose narrative is the intermittent narration delivered by a female voice, whose lyrical musings include such lines as “one day someone will open a window and be replaced by air again” and “a shadow among the shadows, silhouette distorted by rain and distance” — the sort of ruminations you’re meant to absorb viscerally rather than immediately understand.
While Barić is far from a novice, having helmed a number of shorts including “The Horror of Dracula” and “Unknown Energies, Unidentified Emotions” over the past 10 years, “Accidental Luxuries” does mark his feature debut. He’s very nearly a one-man show, having also written the script, edited his own footage, and composed the score by his lonesome — a necessity of what may well have been a shoestring budget, perhaps, but one that allows him to take the creative reins in genuinely impressive fashion.
While mainstream exhibition beyond brief exposure in select virtual cinemas is unlikely, “Accidental Luxuriance” has had a decent festival run in difficult times (including Annecy) and will surely be welcome at museums, film schools and in the hearts of cinephiles enamored with avant-garde auteurs in the vein of Guy Maddin. Those intrepid viewers will be in good company with Barić, who directly invokes the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky, David Cronenberg and Jean-Luc Godard while spinning a yarn that somehow manages to feel all his own.
This is first and foremost a sensory experience, after all — one suffused with a bevy of indelible images: a waterfall superimposed over a woman’s face, fedora-wearing gumshoes that look to have been pulled out of a midcentury comic strip, a tuxedo cat basking in the black-and-white sunlight. It also has a bold color palette, with velvety purples and sunset reds abounding; even narrative-minded viewers whose low tolerance for the abstract leaves them frustrated by the experience will find themselves admiring the scenery.
In its way, “Accidental Luxuriance” harkens back to the early days of animation and serves to remind that the form itself is inherently envelope-pushing — what a strange, innovative way to tell a story this must have seemed when audiences were first exposed to it. The genre has long been viewed chiefly as a vehicle for fairytales and fables, but as long as artists like Barić are operating at the margins, it will continue to be healthily strange at its core.