Digi-Schlock: ANIMALS (Artsploitation Films DVD)

In its young but eventful life, Artsploitation Films has established itself as a DVD label with a love for walking on the wild side of international art/experimental filmmaking; a place that is carving out its own unique niche between cult movies and the arthouse.  Any fan of either aforementioned style of film expects for their chosen fare to be treated respectfully on disc and Artsploitation lives up to that expectation. A good sampling of their approach can be seen on their recent release of Animals, which combines a good transfer with plentiful supplements that get into this unique film’s complex layers.

Things start well with a nice anamorphic transfer of the film. Eduard Grau’s cinematography utilizes a muted color scheme and a lot of shadowy natural lighting but the image quality lives up to these challenges, giving the film a rich and cinematic look.  A 5.1 stereo soundtrack is included and it offers a solid blend of dialogue, music and effects.  The film mixes Catalan and English and a subtitle track is provided to capture the foreign language material for non-English speakers.  In a nice touch, an English subtitle track is also provided for the hard of hearing that offers subtitles for everything.

Animals-dvdArtsploitation supports this presentation with an array of extras.  The first is a commentary track with writer/director Marcal Fores, moderated by film journalist Travis Crawford.  Given the film’s ambiguous approach, this track is a help for those who seek to interpret it.  Crawford conducts the track like a feature-length interview , getting Fores to discuss his use of music, where the film was shot and the how the effects for the film’s teddy bear character were achieved.

There are also more aesthetic-minded questions from Crawford that get interesting answers from Fores: the director freely discusses what he feels the film has to say about childhood, the painful process of maturing to adulthood and the role developing one’s sexuality plays in this process.  The track is a solid listen throughout and those intrigued by the film will be very interested to compare the director’s interpretation of the film with their own.

The disc also includes “The Bear Truth,” a short produced to celebrate the film’s appearance at an Irish LGBT film festival.  It offers a series of gay and transgender people talking about the teddy bears they’ve own and how they’ve impacted their lives.  In a nice touch, a puppeteer “animates” the bears being discussed as the participants talk about them.  The results have a nice warmth and charm.

A particularly novel inclusion is “Animals Short,” which is a film school exercise done by  Fores as a student that inspired Animals.  This vignette includes a lot of material that made it to the later feature film, including the relationship between the boy and the bear, the importance of music to the boy and the unique voice for the bear.

The best information-to-running-time ration comes from a making-of short about the film.  In under twenty minutes, it covers an impressive amount of ground: topics include the special effects, the cast’s interpretation of their roles, talk of which sequences were the most challenging to shoot and how the various filmmaking tools were used to create the film’s distinctive atmosphere.  All the principal cast and crew are interviewed in the piece (Michael Freeman is particularly witty) and there’s some great behind-the-scenes footage included, especially the footage of how “Deerhoof” combined real puppetry and compositing.

The disc’s extras are rounded out by a theatrical trailer for Animals, a brisk piece that avoids summarizing the plot in favor of selling the cast and the mixture of magic and danger that exists in the film.  Four trailers for other Artsploitation releases are included and the package is completed with the inclusion of full-color booklet of liner notes that offer an interview with Fores, conducted by Crawford.  It reads like a capsule version of material covered in the commentary track and thus makes a nice companion piece to that track.

In short, Artsploitation’s release of Animals does well by this unusual film in both the technical and supplemental areas.  Any interested in offbeat modern cinema with an artsy touch should check it out.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Animals, click here.

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