Swiss animator and director Raphaëlle Stolz (“Le Salsifis du Bengale”) has debuted her new short film “Miracasas” at Annecy, where it is in competition with 37 other animated short films as part of the official selection.
Stolz employs a flowing and impressionist animation style to tell the story of Ernesto, an almost-dead soldier carried to his final destination deep in the Brazilian jungle, where villagers hope his death will usher in new life. The film is a French and Swiss co production between Nadasy Film, a prominent Swiss animation studio, Komadoli Studio and Swiss public broadcaster RTS Radio Télévision Suisse.
Showing a gift for collaboration (her short “Le Salsifis du Bengale” was an adaptation of a Robert Desnos poem), Stolz interprets and transforms Augusto Zanovello’s story with her singular style, with wide brush strokes, clever humor and a nod to classic animation. In a story which challenges the foundations of religion and stares down the question of mortality, Stolz’s artwork is both romantic reprieve and an epiphany of light.
Variety spoke with Stolz ahead of the film’s debut at Annecy.
What is the inspiration for the story of Miracasas?
The story was already well advanced by Augusto Zanovello when I started working on it, and it was then transformed as the animatics progressed. The film is about reincarnation, and spirituality is something that has always accompanied me, but which has become more present for me in recent years while making “Miracasas.”
The film was somewhat therapeutic, because it speaks of the trans-generational. The stories of ghosts, wandering spirits, souls in pain, which could be, for me, the reflection of stories that do not belong to us but that accompany us, take on new meaning. This has always been a question for me, and the idea of proposing a vision of what could be a last path towards the afterlife, toward a liberation, seemed interesting to me.
In ‘Miracasas,’ I take you to South America, to Brazil more precisely. There is obviously this taste for travel, for the representation of universes, landscapes, cultures that fascinates me. “Le Salsifis du Bengale” was a criticism of tyranny, and ”Miracasas” is a criticism of certain religious aspects, of certain societal functions that lead to unnecessary deaths, while proposing a vision of what could be a way towards the beyond.
“Miracasas” boasts vivid and imaginative animation. Can you describe the method of animation, and how did you come to settle on this style?
For the method, I made all the line scenery on paper and then I made the color scenery on photoshop. The animation posings were done partly on paper, and then redrawn on TVpaint. All the animation was done in TVpaint, a software that allows a 2D rendering. Everything is drawn. The color of the animation was also made on TVpaint, in several layers of paint. Then the compositing allowed us to add paper textures that loop on the animation, and on the scenery, which allows us to have a “paper with grain” feel, which was very important for me.
The graphic universe of ”Miracasas” was developed over five months, but it is the result of a visual progression dating from my first years of studies at the Emile Cohl school, through the Gobelins school. There is a whole work on the caricatured characters which comes from my last 10 years of research. When it comes to the forms, I like to find characters which answer each other graphically and which function like a ”village” entity. The aesthetics of the film are close to my former film: ”Le Salsifis du Bengale.” We find there the loose, vibrant and very detailed line that we had in this first film. But I pushed the work of the color very far in ”Miracasas.” I make large format oil paintings in parallel with my work as a director, and it helps me to progress in my approach to color. My sources of inspiration are multiple, going from painting, with all the works of Les Nabis, to the universe of the comic strip, like Jorge Gonzalez, Brecht Evens, Manuele Fior, to illustration; with Solotareff, short and long animation films, like ”The Triplets of Belleville.”
Ernesto’s journey in “Miracasas” manages to deal with heavy themes like death, love and sacrifice all in a short run time. Was this a challenge? And what do these themes say about tradition?
Yes, it was a challenge because the film is very dense and it should not be indigestible. But death can be joyful. I would like our customs to lead us to celebrate departure. I would like people to dance on my grave! I would like life, so fleeting, so quick, to be celebrated at the time of departure, and for people to have beautiful memories, even at the time of departure. Because the pain is so great… The body has a hard time with these departures, whether they are real, tangible, physical or emotional. The seemingly positive film is somewhat cynical, and it is this mixture that I was interested in portraying. Death is not so happy in the film. It is for the villagers because a new soul is brought to them… but for Ernesto, it is not an easy path.