Fear(s) of the Dark **1/2
Directed by Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti and Richard McGuire
Written by Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre di Sciullo, Jerry Kramski, Michel Pirus, and Roman Slocombe
With the voices of:
Guillaume Depardeui, Aure Atika, Arthur H., Nicole Garcia, Christian Hincker, Lino Hincker, Melaura Honnau, Amelie Lerma, Charlotte Vermeil, and Andreas Vuillet.
"Fear(s) of the Dark" is further proof that it is nearly impossible to make a truly great anthology film. Between Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes," or the highly A-listed "Paris je t'aime," anthology films often end up being a mixed bag-a worthy short or two in an otherwise tedious collection, and "Fear(s) of the Dar" is on a par with that philosophy of cinema. It's been a little bit since I've seen the film, and two of the six animations really stick out at this point. But what the film has to offer that most anthology films do not have to offer is the unique and very special visual experience that comes with the film being seen on the big screen. The more old fashioned way of animating, straying as much away from computer generated images as possible although crossing that territory at times, is present here, and while computer can bring out some stunning imagery, I still say nothing beats the crude, hand-drawn method of animating, where you can literally see the sweat stains that went into drawing thousands of images. When Bill Plympton said the massively high number of drawings he did for "Idiots and Angels," I wanted to bow down to him, but I was too busy picking up my jaw from the floor.
The various stories present here are introduced by graphic designer Blutch, who features a creepy old man leading around a pack of four wild bloodhounds. When one of the dogs gets away, he leaps onto a victim, tears him apart, and the new story begins. The films best story comes from Charles Burns, who tells of a loner college student named Eric, who found a rather odd looking insect when he was a boy, which disappeared into the burrows of his bed. The bed comes to school with him, and after a night with a beautiful young girl, is remined of the insect yet again after several strange things begin to happen. Burns' story comes at the very start of the film, and it never again reaches that engrossing peak that it does here. Burns' tells the story with the eagerness of a young boy at camp telling a ghost story, and it unfolds very carefully and without any predictability. The animation is terrific too, working with black and white as such a strength, and with some surrealist images that the entire segment seems dreamlike. It is aso the only one of the stories that has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
The same cannot be said for some of the others, including Marie Caillou's story of a Japanese schoolgirl who is being taunted by an evil doctor with sleep medicine, trying to study her nightmares, or Mattotti's story of a town that is facing the horrors of a monster. While the two are quite enjoyable to look at, and both filled with their share of distinctive styles, the narrative in both really fails to hook as much as the Burns story. It also doesn't help that Caillou's story is somewhat interrupted by abstract "horror" by di Sciullo. In between portions of the film, there are cheap black and white abstractions, complete with a rather pretentious voice over that explores and dissects various fears in life for the narrator, nearly always centered around the economy, or politics, or fast food-things with such an obvious and 'in-your-face' message that its a rather large wall in an otherwise enjoyable selection. There is simply no point to these excursions, no progressive, no narrative, and they are not even enjoyable to look at. The abstractions are a burden rather than a visual delight.
And that brings to the final film, a highly minimalistic work by Richard McGuire, which features a man trying to navigate himself around his house which is covered in pitch black darkness. What allows the viewer to see is the white, which is generally the head of the man, and occassionally something that is fluttering around the house. While it does not feature the strong narrative push of the Burns segment, the McGuire story is enjoyable in its clever design, and it becomes engrossing because of what it doesn't show, leading up to the rather smart twist at the very end, the punchline to the film as a whole, in a way, and a funny joke revolving fear and what it does.
"Fear(s) of the Dark" is a mixed bag anthology film, joining the list of several other segmented films that do not offer a perfect selection. This is understandable, as different directors and visions fails to hook the same people sometimes, but it does create a rather tedious gap to get to the good stuff. Some may find more solace in the Caillou or Mattotti segments, but in my opinion Charles Burns and Richard McGuire provide the best work here, both visually and through storytelling. As for the in-between segments, Blutch redeems himself from the otherwise pointless interludes with the dogs and the old man by making them highly interesting visually, and di Sciullo completely lost me the second her pretentious voice overs and "art" began to show themselves.
And on a final note, to the distributors of this film in America, and it so hard to ask that the subtitles be yellow or encased in some in some kind border to make them easier to read. White subtitles on a film mostly in black and white are nearly impossible to read, especially when images at the bottom are white themselves. It became almost impossible to read them, and di Sciullo's headache abstractions while reading subtitles were almost a seizure to get through.