Sundance 2013: ‘Seraph’ is a poignant film that pulls at the heartstrings in all the right ways

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Directed by Dash Shaw
Written by John Cameron Mitchell and Dash Shaw
Produced by Howard Gertler and John Cameron Mitchell

Telling the story of a troubled individual is never easy, even more so when dealing with a troubled youth. Out of the countless attempts that have been made at telling such a tale over the history of cinema, and only a handful, at most, have succeeded. Those than have, however, have mostly gone on to become classics, but tackling the basic premise remains a tall order. Doing so with an animated feature that is largely dialogue free, and making it under 7 minutes to boot, would seem impossible, yet Seraph not only manages to pull this feat off, it does to in a remarkable manner, leaving an impression long after the film itself has ended.

The music in the movie is a definite highlight. With songs provided by indie artists Sigur Ros, the score of a film, more often than not, overpowers the action onscreen, an issue whose possibility is increased in a film that uses so little dialogue. Seraph, however, manages to avoid both these pitfalls, providing music that very effectively complements the onscreen narrative. Rather than trying to rise and fall with the events as they occur, the music provides more of an overall feel, allowing the story to guide forward, and connecting the events, while still proving emotionally resonant. It also makes for a wonderful listening experience independent of the short itself.

The choice of animation style is also an interesting aspect of this film. Rather than choosing high-resolution computer generated images, the likes of which are commonly employed by Pixar and Dreamworks, and which have broken new ground in animation’s capabilities, the filmmakers here chose to go with hand-drawn animation. The hand drawn animation itself is also not of the highest technical calibre, but somehow the choice helps enhance the story being told, as it allows further lingering on the important images, and manages to make a tableau of crucial moments, the poignancy of them remaining intact.

The story itself manages to touch on a lot of themes, including abuse, bullying, self-harm, homosexuality, prison, and death. Despite going through so many topics, the film never feels crowded, and all of the ideas are given equal weight. Writers Brad Shaw and John Cameron Mitchell manage to keep all the plates spinning as they go through the movie, with each concept adding to the audience’s understanding of what shapes and drives the central character. The movie is a wonderful piece of art, and certainly worth a watch, if for no other reason than to see how the film manages to build an effective three-dimensional character in a short time.


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