Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Moon and the Son

I find that many of the most interesting animated films these days are being made in the genre of animated documentaries.  Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, The Rauch Brothers, and Marjane Satrapi ground their films in every day life, rather than fantasy.  This isn't to say that their films don't take advantage of animation's ability to use exaggeration, symbol and metaphor.  It's just that their films illuminate real life instead of providing the audience with an escape from it.

I am late in getting to John Canemaker's The Moon and the Son.  I never saw it in its original release and have only now caught up to it on DVD.  The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2005 and it deals with the relationship between John Canemaker and his father.

There's been no shortage of father-son relationship issues in recent animated features.  Finding Nemo, Chicken Little, Ratatouille, and How to Train Your Dragon come to mind.  In each of these films, though, it is the child who is misunderstood and the parent has to come around to understanding and accepting the child.  In The Moon and the Son, both father and son are misunderstood by each other and as the film is Canemaker's attempt to understand the relationship after his father's death, no real resolution is possible.  That's the difference between a film for children and a film for adults.  Canemaker doesn't privilege his own point of view over his father's and paint himself as the victim.  Both he and his father are victims due to circumstances beyond their control.  The question is not who is right and who is wrong.  That's too simplistic.  The question is how do people deal with what life throws at them and how does it affect their relationships with others?  The older I get, the more I think about Jean Renoir's line in his film The Rules of the Game. "The horrible thing about life is that everyone has his reasons."

Canemaker's father had anger issues.  Whether that anger was due to his personality or his circumstances is left to the viewer.  He had a hardscrabble life, typical of working class immigrants and he kept his old world values.  Canemaker was embarrassed by his father's jail time and intimidated by his temper.  While Canemaker escaped the family as an adult, his relationship with his father could be reduced but not resolved.

The history and conflicts in the film are portrayed through animation as well as still photographs, home movies and newspaper clippings.  This allows the film to move freely between emotion and fact and that's what gives the film its power.  This isn't an abstract history but something that had real consequences for the film maker.

The voices in the film are Eli Wallach, portraying Canemaker's father, and John Turturro, portraying Canemaker himself.  Based on the story reel that is an extra on the DVD,  I'm guessing that Wallach and Turturro did not record together.  That's a pity.  Wallach's reading is excellent, though Turturro's is a bit stiff.  I'm sure that if they had the opportunity to work off each other, Turturro's performance would have been fuller.  In many ways, I prefer Canemaker's own reading in the story reel to Turturro's.

The other extras on the DVD are two galleries of artwork and an on-camera interview with John Canemaker and producer Peggy Stern.

There's no shortage of animated films that are trifles, something to amuse or distract and then be quickly forgotten.  The Moon and the Son is not that kind of film.  It's more proof of the emotional richness that animation is capable of when it sticks to the truth.

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