Tuesday, February 2, 2016

DVD of the Week: Song of the Sea

Sometimes you'd be forgiven for thinking that there were only two schools of animated movie in the world, those from Japan, and those from Hollywood. Both are pretty diverse, to be fair, and it's certainly not a slight on them, but they both have evolved into distinctive visual styles that are so familiar they almost define what an animated movie should look like. Which is nonesense, of course, as the occasional breakthrough features from across the globe prove, even if they often have to fight their way out of both the "foreign language" and "animation" boxes to get there. One recent success is the Irish feature Song of the Sea, which wound up as our tea-time viewing this Sunday .

Song of the Sea is an unashamed Fairy Tale with roots deep into Irish mythology. and like all Fairy Tales, it's power comes from a strong emotional payload that the fantastic is a gateway to. Here we open with a young boy losing his mother whilst gaining a baby sister, who as she grows cannot speak but has a marked affinity for the sea in general, and seals in particular. Before the story cuts to the more magical elements it lays out the complex emotional landscape that he inhabits along with his lighthouse keeper father, a man of few words and an abiding loss. After the little girl’s 6th birthday, the two children go to live with her grandmother, but the girl has a power of great value to the world of the Fae, and soon the boy is off on a quest to rescue her, and deal with his own pain.

There are a couple of things to say straight off – first, Song of the Sea is utterly beautiful to look at. The design of the characters is simple and clean, and the effects of the magical world seeping into the mundane build up over the film to a visually outstanding climax. Visual cues from characters mirror in both the “real” and “magical” world, matching the simple power of a story about a young boy dealing with real grief to a mythic story of stone giants and ominous owls. Secondly, that mundane story is genuinely moving, cleverly written mostly in atmosphere and subtext to give a series of strong emotional beats to tie into the visuals.

It’s also nice to play around in Celtic mythology, with its giants and witches and Small Folk and the like. Zoe and I were left reminiscing about the books and shows that were influenced by it when we were kids but it seems a lot rarer now. Pop culture has moved away from it, become more internationalised, and this stuff seems to have fallen out of fashion so much it feels ever so slightly exotic, despite coming from our own backyard. Its nice to see it back, I must say.

As the film neared it’s climax Robert, by this point tucked in under my arm, whispered “This is beautiful” and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. It’s lovely to look at, fantastically acted and emotionally affecting, and left me with a lump in my throat more than once. You don’t need to have kids to entertain to look this up, it’s well worth the seeing.