Zubroffka Review: The Obvious Child

At the 2014 Zubroffka Film Festival four young Polish journalists were mentored by film critic and journalist Michael Pattison in a workshop that helped them to explore the role of modern film criticism and journalism. Every day, the journalists met filmmakers, distributors and journalists as they learned how to make themselves stand out from the crowd and negotiate the complexities of a film festival. The following review is one of the results of this workshop.

How do you transport the quartered corpse of your parents to heaven? The answer is not as easy as it may seem. You can find it in Stephen Irvin's The Obvious Child (Dir. Stephen Irvin, UK, 2013), a British animated short. First look: a weird rabbit, a little girl with hairy hands, and the dismembered bodies of parents. First thought: “Thank God it's an animation!” A sequence of surrealistic images tells us a story about a poor child who is trying to find her parents a way to heaven. Following the description, the image is full of absurd poetics and psychedelic associations. This dark journey is told by a little fluffy but not-so-innocent rabbit.

When watching The Obvious Child, my brain was whispering about everything what was behind the picture. In the psychedelic images I've recognized some kind of hallucination: multiple layers of pictures and symbolism. The opening words of the little girl (“I was here when someone killed my parents. There was an awful mess”) made me instantly think about causes: why did the creators decide to use this dark animation as a means of expression? The first thing that came to my mind was ASD – Acute Stress Disorder. After a traumatic event, children lose this illusion of safety guaranteed by seemingly omnipotent and powerful parents. The little girl fits into this scheme very well. Her attempts to reclaim the right order of the entire metaphysical world and sense of control seem to be obvious, as the title suggests. She's overstimulating, always in movement. We can also see that she has lost her childhood (another symptom of ASD) – she's ceaselessly smoking cigars like an old Cuban. She is highly destructive and aggressive, especially to her best friend – a deviant rabbit.

Speaking of which, the rabbit narrates the story. He's loyal, devoted and blinded by love. He delights in aggression and copulating with corpses. But don't get the wrong impression – despite his deviant edge he wants to help his little friend. When he finds out that this is possible only by cutting off his own arm, he does not think about his own pleasure anymore. And his sacrifice helps this poor child to find a way to god by creating a portal in a puddle of blood. This "sick" narrative somehow brilliantly presents the state of a child's mind after a traumatic experience.

In animating the story, Irvin gives viewers a better impression of what the exact problem is. In this particular position those irregularities are not only truthful, but also shown in a non-conventional way. Narration provided by a devoted toy lets us feel more personally attached. What is more – characters are well built and extremely vivid, especially in their depicted weaknesses. The structure is well devised – subsequent meetings with Big Head, the god-like character responsible for not permitting her parents into heaven, raise the tension and leads us to a great climax involving sacrifice and fulfillment. This psychedelic production may at first seem to be absurd and vulgar to unaccustomed minds. But for those more attuned to animated shorts, or to surrealism saturated with absurd and black humor, this production may find a way to your heart – though not necessarily through a portal made with rabbit blood.

By Urszula Janoszuk

19 January 2015, by Cineuropa Shorts