2016 has been a great year for Hungarian animation: Sundance had ‘Limbo Limbo Travel’, Berlinale premiered Oscar-shortlisted Réka Bucsi’s brand new piece Love, and now Cannes has announced its choice: Nadja Andrasev and Luca Tóth.
by Anita Libor
Ten years ago neither of them would have imagined they would be preparing for their Cannes premiere. Animation was not their first choice: Nadja wanted to be an ethologist, and Luca had thought of becoming an actress or a traveller of some kind. “Classic choices for children! When I started acting at the age of 16, it turned out I really hated performing, but at the same time I really enjoyed the empathy in the process. I’ve always liked drawing, so animation felt like the right direction to go in. It all seemed so free to me as there are so many aspects to the work: you can be an actor, an illustrator, a painter or a sound designer.” As a child, Nadja attended the summer camp run by the famous Hungarian animation studio Pannónia Filmstúdió. “I enjoyed it very much, and when I came back to Hungary after living in the United States I began to work in the film industry as an assisant director, almost by accident. It was filmmaking, so it felt pretty close to animation. I had never learned how to draw professionally and working 12 hours a day meant that I didn’t even have the time to, so getting into MOME was not something I thought could ever be possible.”
Directors in animation tend to be afraid of working with large groups of filmmakers. “There are many introverted people among us who want to work alone”, says Luca. “We have big plans, but we also have difficulty communicating our vision. We don’t want to work with everyone in an actual moment, like on a set. We work all the time, by ourselves, secretly and concentrated, so it’s a much more intimate process. The work and the result are too.”
So is animation the loneliest genre you’ll ever do? “Absolutely”, nods Nadja, who has been in the film industry for 14 years. “I would never direct a live action film. Never. I would get nervous in front of a crew waiting for orders. I always loved and still love working on location, but I feel like I somehow have to prove my creativity. Drawing has always been part of my life, and there came a time when I felt I needed more. But as an animator I still use much more cinematic aspects than I should”. Luca, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: “I think in animation, so I can switch from a real place to an imaginary one in a split second. In Superbia there are body parts that a real camera can’t show.”
Both directors studied at MOME where they enjoyed the greatest artistic freedom in learning their profession. Luca finished her studies at the Royal College in London, which is the closest animation can get to fine arts. “We received a lot of critical advice at MOME. I felt like we had to survive to defend the artist in ourselves or at least the artist we wanted to be. Royal College is the exact opposite, where you just create whatever you like. I don’t know which method is better.”
MOME is a project-oriented school. For her diploma film, Nadja had to adapt a literary work into animation. She chose Ádám Bodor’s short story The Noise of Licking, which is about a woman who is very intimate with flowers and a cat who stalks her through the window. The cat disappears, but a strange man arrives licking an ice cream and watching the woman just as the cat had. “I liked the situation of being watched in your own environment, so I created the whole story around the cat and the woman. The short story is only two pages long.” Nadja created the world around them and around the imagination of the cat trying to understand the basic act of watering. “I have a cat and sometimes I wonder about the world he lives in. Beyond that, there is another cat watching me through my window. Very scary!”
“I don’t have a cat. It’s so sad!” Luca’s Superbia came from a participation at Animation Sans Frontières. “You have to pitch an idea, so I collected my former stories and put them together. I started with the characters, the symbols and the world they live in. I couldn’t really tell you the story, I just used a 15-page long visual board for a film. It takes place in an imaginary world where something very basic changes. There are two nations: men and women. The men live in big caves and the women hunt them. And everybody is naked.” Superbia was hard to pitch. “You have to simplify a complex idea like this. And I think I may have oversimplified my story, because in the end it did not remind me of my own work. So I started working on the animatic because I was 100% sure I wanted to make this film. I just hoped I could finance it somehow, but once we had the animatic it was much easier to find funding.” Superbia was funded by the NMHH helyett Media Council’s Patronage Programme, and a co- production with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, The Noise of Licking is a diploma film funded by the National Film Fund.
The average budget for a short animation is HUF 1 million (EUR 3 000) per minute, but not for a diploma film or even a low-budget animation. “When it comes to dubbing, a short animation cannot afford to pay real money for a real actor.” There are no dialogues in The Noise of Licking, but if you pay attention you can hear human voices. Just like in Superbia, where it was absolutely neccessary to only use sounds (laughter, moaning) because Luca did not want to use any human language.
Festivals and festival audiences prefer short films without dialogue because they don’t need any translation. But this is something a filmmaker should not consider: “Producers and consultants often think that we should do this or that because of a festival’s preference. But it’s a mistake, because then you wash out the good and personal things from your film. You should always concentrate on what you would like to tell with your story and why. It’s the only way you can stay relevant and honest.” Nadja agrees: you have to focus on your story and mood. “For a very long time I thought my title had to be international, but I simply preferred “The Noise of Licking”. And I think it was the right choice, although many people tried to talk me out of it.”
Superbia is definitely R-rated, which may sound surprising as animation is considered to be a genre for all ages. “I can understand if you are surprised to be watching human genitalia in a short animation.” The Noise of Licking is sometimes interpreted as just a cat movie for lonely women or a love story between a cat and a woman. “But it’s great to have so many interpretations. I wanted to present a strange situation, and the story behind it is up to the viewer.”
MOME has had a good run in recent years: Rabbit and Dear, Symphony 42, Limbo Limbo Travel and now ‘Superbia’ and The Noise of Licking. “We are definitely a big group of friends and we work in close connection with each other. We are mainly artists who have recently finished their studies. It’s a very inspiring and creative group. And yes, MOME brought us together.” Zsuzsi Kreif, the director of Sundance guest Limbo Limbo Travel, also worked on The Noise of Licking, and Nadja and Luca are now working together for an upcoming diploma film and both have shared the same crew: Péter Benjámin Lukács as sound designer and Bálint Gelley as composer. They were the first to hear the good news: The Noise of Licking got into Cinefondation and Superbia will be part of the Critics Week as the only animation in the programme. “It is so great that Cannes screens short live action films and short animation together, because you are then forced to watch good quality of both genres. This is a great opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to a new audience and reach as many viewers as possible.” Sure Cannes can give a great head start, but it’s more than that: “It’s good to be among other animation filmmakers, because sometimes we are treated like weirdos. We are filmmakers as well, not cartoon artists. But since I have literally just finished Superbia, I want to enjoy Cannes as much as I can!”
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