Death Of A Father Short Film Review: Animating Grief, Film Companion
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Director: Somnath Pal

It’s a bit unnerving to watch Somnath Pal’s animated short, Death Of A Father. Most of us belong to the school of thought that believes animation in storytelling should be used as a tool for imagination. For abstract thoughts, flying saucers, talking animals, vivid mindscapes and unabashed creativity. Perhaps it’s the childhood cartoon-watching culture – or even the trashy Hollywood VFX-overdose superhero/sci-fi epidemic – but one only expects “un-filmable” concepts to assume the flexibility of computer-generated material.

But I’ve recently found that the most charming animated work often strives to encapsulate the ordinariness of this world as is. On a psychological level, it’s like admiring an uncannily detailed lifelike painting; there’s a different kind of beauty about “creating” realism as opposed to simply capturing it.

There is nothing animation-worthy about this film. But it remains remarkable exactly because of – and not despite – this. You can’t take the “technique” out of the film to judge it rationally – because the technique, just like the animated medium here, is the film. It’s the little extra in the ordinary.

For instance, Pal’s simple, subdued short could have very well been a live-action film. In fact, it might have been very much in tone with its creative director/producer Chaitanya Tamhane’s quietly scrutinizing Court.

An adult son reluctantly goes through the motions of old-school rituals in the wake of his ailing father’s death. An ambulance has to be booked, a crematorium has to be arranged, invitations to the prayer meeting have to be organized, the pension has to be transferred, messages have to be acknowledged, a fast has to be adhered to. He silently observes the inherent apathy of these customs. Its procedural nature leaves no space to grieve – a deliberate result that perhaps goes in line with the infamous Indian tendency of suppressing uncomfortable emotions. Except, maybe, at night, alone in bed, amidst a lucid dreamscape, when the mind is too tired to conform anymore.

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There is nothing animation-worthy about this film. But it remains remarkable exactly because of – and not despite – this. This is an extension of the reason a film like Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is so hypnotic. The Berlin heist thriller needn’t have been shot in one long take – but it was, which in turn heightened our awareness and appreciation of its tense momentum. It completely alters our sense of observation. You can’t take the “technique” out of the film to judge it rationally – because the technique, just like the animated medium here, is the film. It’s the little extra in the ordinary.

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As a viewer, you begin to wonder why the maker chose to take the harder path. It soon becomes apparent: there’s a curious depth to its texture precisely because it emulates life down to the littlest detail. Like the way he fleetingly glances towards his old mother in the final shot: probably wondering about the dry formality of ageing, or about how he might have to repeat this “mourning” process again very soon. It’s no coincidence that only the humans in Death Of A Father are Studio-Ghibli-ish caricatures – figures designed to highlight the authenticity of the faded environment, and perhaps to remind us that we aren’t very real, and elegant, in the bleakest of situations.

Rating:   star

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