Home » venice film festival » 'Anomalisa' (2015) directed by Charlie Kaufman (Venice Film Festival 2015)
Sunday, September 13, 2015
'Anomalisa' (2015) directed by Charlie Kaufman (Venice Film Festival 2015)
Sunday, September 13, 2015 by londoncitynights
The highest praise I can give a movie is that it's changed my life. And Anomalisa has indeed changed mine. From now until the day I die I won't be able to hear Cyndi Lauper's new wave classic Girls Just Want To Have Fun without a tear in the corner of my eye. That was the last thing I expected, but then Anomalisa is a film positively exploding with surprises big and small.
Granted that's pretty much what you expect from Charlie Kaufman, whose scripts and films sparkle with down-at-heel magical realism, raw emotional honesty and recognisable, restrained characterisation. He's perhaps alone in modern cinema in being able to perfectly synthesis these elements, as ably demonstrated in his screenplays for outright classics like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and his direction of Synecdoche, New York. Yet in Anomalisa this formula refines itself further still.
Without wishing to spoil too much of the plot, the protagonist is business advice author and key note speaker Michael (voiced by David Thewlis). He's purposeless, numbed by a loveless marriage and haunted by his failed past relationships. Michael's depressed manifests as every other person in the world sharing the same face and the same moderated, passionless intonation (provided by Tom Noonan). Yet, while staying a hotel he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only other person in his world that speaks with their own voice.
Anomalisa tells a story of intentionally limited scope, Kaufman prunes away the extraneous until we're left with three voices and a handful of dowdy locations. The most immediately obvious thing that's been abandoned is the human body; Anomalisa is a stop motion film populated by puppets that sit on just the right side of the uncanny valley. To clarify, this isn't the claymation of Aardman Animations (wonderful though that it is), or clumsy Supermarionation, it aims for a straightforward realism, just with dolls instead of people.
I won't go into the technicals of how it achieves this, save to say that about 30 seconds into the film you completely, utterly, sincerely, truly buy Michael as a dramatic, empathetic figure. This is stop motion unlike anything I've seen before - a straight-up masterpiece of animation. This is courtesy of co-director Duke Johnson, whose most notable prior work to date has been on stop motion segments within sitcom Community.
I really can't overemphasise how gorgeous the film is, each microscopic twitch of emotion on the character's faces perfectly conveyed, each slump of their shoulders betraying inner pain and even the sparkle in their eyes looking like these things are about to come to Pinocchio-ish life.
The easy highlight is a reasonably graphic sex scene; there's probably a rulebook for stop motion animation that advises in the strongest possible terms to avoid the potentially ludicrous prospect of puppet sex. But what could have been a Team America bashing of wooden groins proves to be simply magical. The few giggles in the audience are quickly silenced as we see one of the most realistic, touching and moving depictions of on screen sex in the last decade or so. It's packed with little moments, people accidentally bonking their head on the wall, self-consciously flinching at unexpected touches and finally melting into blissful embracing.
By all rights this scene shouldn't be be possible, yet Johnson and Kaufman are weaving some kind of magic, using their characters' artificial nature as a boon rather than something to overcome.
Anomalisa would be worthy of recommendation simply as a technical exercise, but in its thematic, performative and emotional elements it heads into the cinematic stratosphere. David Thewlis is one of the finest British actors working today, and though this is 'just' voiceover, Michael might be his finest performance to date. Cynical, intelligent and above all lonely, he conveys depression so keenly it hurts. He's aided by the typically Kaufman technique of manifesting his mindset in the world surrounding him, everyone having the same face and voice being both creepy, sad and dramatically appropriate.
When he finds Lisa, who speaks with her own voice, it's impossibly moving. He's enraptured by her, a gruff man made vulnerable and needy. As with literally everything else in the film, their interactions are immaculately pitched and directed. As mentioned above, my highlight was her rendition of Girls Just Want To Have Fun, which held a gigantic cinema filled with thousands of people in stunned silence, nobody so much as coughing for fear of breaking the spell.
Charlie Kaufman is one of the most exciting, original writer/directors in contemporary cinema and Anomalisa is his best film to date. It's a triumph in every aspect, from the ambition, vision and technical rigour required even consider making a stop motion drama, to the miraculously amazing final product.
Missing Anomalisa is not an option.
★★★★★Tags: Anomalisa , Charlie Kaufman , cinema , david thewlis , Duke Johnson , film , five stars , jennifer jason leigh , stop motion , tom noonan , venice film festival