by Thom Ernst Friday March 16, 2012

Your won't likely recognize any of the stars in either of our features this weekend on Saturday Night at the Movies.  In fact, our first film, Mary and Max (2009), the two lead characters have only a vague resemblance to anyone we might encounter in our daily life.   We recognize them as being one of us because they have arms, legs, a head, eyes, ears, nose and so on, but these features are so exagerrated and grotesque that they stand apart from being human.  And yet we can identify completely with Mary and Max.  In many ways Mary and Max come across as more real than many live-action performers who choose a rote and stereotypical interpretation of their movie characters. Toni Collette gives voice to Mary a sweet but troubled 8 year-old Australian girl who begins a 20 year pen-pal relationship with Max, a 40 year-old Manhatten shut-in with serious anxiety issues, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.   Through their vocal talents it's the actors who provide the nuances of fear and hope felt by the character and it's the animators who sculpt the performances through telling facial expressions and body-language

Mary and Max is adult theme animated film told with gentle humour, pathos and tragedy without straying into the kind of adult animation that distinguishes Fritz the Cat (1972) and Heavy Traffic (1973) from children's animated fare. Mary writes to Max of her neglectful parents, her pet chicken ( the only animated conciet the film allows itself) her troubles at school and (eventually) her fiance.  Max writes to Mary about his doubts, mishaps and offers the occassional insight life has provided him with to pass along.  

Persepolis is our second feature.  Based on the comic book (graphic novel if you insist on such a term) by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi both who also directed and wrote the film. The story is based on Satrapi's experience as a young Iranian girl growing up in a time and country in conflict.  It too shares a humour and pathos similar to Mary and Max though with a more decidedly political edge.  The film features Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni) as Marjanne, and Catherine Deneuve as her mother.

Here the animation, mostly  black and white in keeping with the artistry of the book, is sparse and simplistic and yet the characterization is dense and fully evolved. 

The interviews feature several top Canadian animators including Robin Budd and Oscar winner Chris Landreth  who speak to the importance of animation in cinema and why it quite often can acheive a kind of dramatic impact life-action films cannot reach. 

This is the first time Saturday Night at the Movies has aired an animated double feature.  It is also one of the most anticipated evenings for the SNAM team.  It's not so much that we are experimenting with a genre and anticipating the results, rather it is an occassion where we've found two exceptional films and can't wait to share them.