By Bears Fonte
Greg Zglinski’s surreal marital drama ANIMALS captures a couple at the crossroads of their relationship, a time when to people seem to be willing to consider what their life would be like with or without their spouse. Sometimes, those considerations play out on screen as abductions, murders or suicides, although the shadowy narrative never affords the audience the certainty of anything they are watching on screen being real.
Set in the Alps, ANIMALS, plays out in two storylines, and two, possibly three realities. Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) and Nick (Philipp Hochmair) pack up and escape the city, Nick to collect recipes for his next cookbook, Anna to write her first novel for adults. Already a successful children’s author, Anna faces terrible creative inertia when its comes to getting past “Chapter 1.” She tells the girl watching over their apartment it is about a woman who kills her husband because of his infidelity. And Nick is actually cheating on her, something the terribly jealous Anna interrogates him over throughout the film. The woman he is seeing, Andrea, a neighbor a few floors above, commits suicide shortly into the film. Or does she… because her florist boyfriend recognizes the woman watching Anna and Nick’s apartment as Andrea, despite Andrea’s mother informing him of her death. If that’s not confusing enough, on their way out of town Anna and Nick hit a sheep, sending Anna to the hospital. Upon her return, she thinks she was only there for a day, and Nick informs her it was 12 days.
The film continues to spiral into miasma of misinformation and misleading truths, as the audience soon realizes it watching two Annas in two different storylines, and an Andrea who also seems to be stuck in a loop of impossible facts. The film would be insufferably frustrating, except that it isn’t. Every performance completely captivating, Zglinski’s characters commit to their reality even when the audience can’t. They search for a way out of their loop long after the audience has given up hope and is willing just to be lead along the sinister path of deceit and jealousy the filmmaker has designed. Along the way, the director fills the frames with exquisite imagery, whether it’s a dead goldfish, a bird trapped in a house that bangs itself into the walls until it dies, or a talking cat that asks for a cigarette.
At times funny, but mostly unsettling, ANIMALS captures that insecurity of a marriage on the brink of defeat, and a woman on the brink of desperation. It is a director’s film, full of beautifully composed scenes, and mood. With all the mystery and misdirection, the end of the film cannot hope to live up to the promise of the puzzle. This is not a screenwriter’s film, and for those of us looking to have everything tied up neatly … well, it attempts it, but it is not as artful as the previous 85 minutes suggested it might be. Still, this is a film that should be seen. This director, with a more traditional narrative in his hands, could make a terrifying horror film. ANIMALS, while not a traditional genre film, seizes upon the dark trappings of duplicity, and challenges the audience to pass judgement on a crime/murder/deception that may not even be happening. It is an enjoyable active viewing excursion in the cinema.
ANIMALS screened this last weekend at Fantasia International Film Festival and screens again on the 18th.