There seems to be a good vibe around Hungarian animation these days, especially when it comes to girls and animation. Last year Réka Bucsi’s enigmatic ‘Symphony no. 42’ made it to Sundance and was even shortlisted for the Oscars, and this year it’s the Zsuzsanna Kreif and Borbála Zétényi duo’s turn with their short animation entitled ‘Limbo Limbo Travel’.
‘Limbo Limbo Travel’ started as the directors’ graduation film at the MoholyNagy University of Art and Design, when Zsuzsanna Kreif read an article about a travel agency organising matchmaking trips for single women. She immediately called her fellow filmmaker and schoolmate Borbála Zétényi, or Bori, to help her make a short film about it. The 16minute-long animation was a joint project from the very beginning. “We wrote the script together and we created the style together. The drawing was of course done separately, but later on we were easily able to merge the parts because we knew exactly what we wanted to do”, says Kreif about the idea’s conception. “The graphic design was a result of our mutual work, and in the final stages of production I couldn’t even tell apart what I had created from what Bori had created, which I think is a pretty good outcome”.
“As we knew that this project would take several years to complete, we figured that it would be more fun and interesting if we didn’t work alone. Making an animation is a really difficult task and you can sometimes feel insecure about your own work, so it’s very helpful to have somebody around who can cheer you up. We both doubted our work several times over the four years it took to make this film”, continues Zétényi. ‘Limbo’ and its defining style is therefore somewhat unique, because it is a mixture of the two women’s energy during that period. It is highly unlikely that they will ever create something similar in the future, either together or separately.
The advertisement Kreif had read in the magazine referred to a guided tour for single women, so it was obvious from the very beginning that they needed to design a group of women for the short film. They stopped at eight, although they did have a ninth figure that did not end up making it into the final version of the film. “Once we had the protagonists we had to think up their relationships and dynamics, and then they immediately started to come to life, enabling us to develop the story. At first I had only imagined a scene in which big women haunted tiny little men on a distant island”. Their topic is not at all new, as several films, including Ulrich Seidl’s ‘Paradise: Love’ dealt with this industry, but the humorous style and storytelling is ‘Limbo Limbo Travel’’s own. “We also saw a sad documentary on the subject, but as we are both fun girls we don’t want to spend our time creating something black and white with melancholy piano music. That’s just not our style at all”, admits Zétényi. “Of course we would like to deliver our message, but not the hard way. We also want to entertain our audience”.
Working together and creating a common style, as well as drawing on end and late at night was the easy part. The real challenge was the funding. ‘Limbo’ started out as a university project, but already in the very early stages it was picked up by the French producer Christian Pfohl, soon turning the small school film into a big international coproduction. It took a long time to collect the money and the girls could never have guessed that it would end up lasting four years, which is a lot, even for a handdrawn animation.
‘Limbo Limbo Travel’ is a surprising and strange film, but the public has welcomed it with enthusiasm. “We enjoyed making it very much, and we could only hope that people would understand and appreciate it”. Which is why it was so frustrating for the film’s two directors when nobody laughed at its first screening; not one single person. “I felt like dying, it was horrible”, remembers Zétényi. “Four years of work for nothing. Then I went to see the audience’s reactions at the second screening of the film at the Friss Hús Budapest festival, and to my surprise the exact opposite happened and the audience went crazy for it. They were screaming, clapping and even singing with the film. It was nuts”. And the film has been a big success ever since.
The film made it into Clermont-Ferrand, the Mecca of short films, into Annecy, the peak of animation film festivals, and into Sundance, the haven of indie films. The upcoming Sundance will greatly help with the American distribution of the film as well as promote it for other festivals. The directors also hope to meet Robert Redford. ‘Limbo’ was actually on the horizon to win an Oscar in the short animated films category. “It was strange because we had just won the Silver Dragon for best animation in Krakow, which we were really happy with. So it came as a complete surprise a few months later when we received a letter informing us that our film had qualified for the Oscars and asking us to fill out the application form included in the envelope. It was a shock. Our tiny little naked men did not end up on the shortlist, but it was fun waiting for the announcement anyway”.
Indeed, there are tiny little naked men in ‘Limbo Limbo Travel’, which tells an even crazier story. In a nutshell: in our modern world, men are only interested in their phones and other electronic gadgets, so a group of desperate women travel to a faraway island in search of love and attention. On the island they find a significant number of fully naked men with giant moustaches. “We imagined these men as a peaceful but very unique tribe, with something quite unconventional. Then came the idea of the moustache, whereby the whole island centres around the facial hair, even its own shape and the animals that live there. And because there is no dialogue in the film, the moustache also serves as a means of communicating emotions and feelings”.
It is quite hard to choose a favourite moment in this crazy dreamlike adventure. Kreif likes the ‘Gone with the Wind’ motif, while Zétényi prefers the aggressive woman because she is small and blonde, just like herself. (Personally, my favourite scene is when the women throw a baby at each other. Yes, ‘Limbo Limbo Travel’ is one of those films where you can actually laugh at a scene like that.) “It is strange to think that we were working on this film for four years, finished it two years ago and are still travelling around the world with it. We are working on completely different and new stories with other people now, but it is still very much part of our life”. Kreif is working with Eva Katinka Bognár on her new project about suffragettes (a satire about a group of desperate women), and Zétényi is currently working on a poetry series for children and would like to focus on her new project about transsexuality.
By Anita Libor