Continuing on with my current animation obsession I have turned my attention to a country far closer to home than South Korea. As films go it is not ‘exclusively’ of that country with Belgium and France both listed as co-countries of origin. However, in an interconnected world such as this one there are not many films that are just one country whether it be in terms of talent, production or finances…
Title: The Secret of Kells
Director: Tomm Moore
I have yet to have the pleasure to see the Book of Kells first hand since I have yet to venture across the Irish Sea (yet have been most of the way around the world… maybe Dorothy was right in The Wizard of Oz about not seeing what was in your own backyard). However, if the recurring visual motifs in The Secret of Kells are anything to go by this is osmething that needs to be rectified.
The film itself is a fictional portrayal of the events leading up to the creation of The Book of Kells which is, if you don’t already know, a heavily illustrated ‘illuminated’ book containing the Four Gospels. Since the origin of this book is not for absolute certain (although it is agreed by a majority that it was started on the island of Iona and then continued in Kells after a raid by some pesky, bloodthirsty Vikings) the film is more than able to take some creative liberties.
Our lead character is a boy of undetermined age named Brandon who lives in the Abbey of Kells with his uncle. Whilst many would be quick to paint the uncle as too authoritarian from the word go since he has turned his back on the world of books and is obsessed with the building of protective walls to fend from the Vikings… I for one greatly sympathised with him. I mean let’s face it when you are faced with an enemy that delighted in rape, pillage the delicate art of leaving no survivors you have every right to obsess over how to not have any of those three things happen to you and those under your charge. Somehow I got sidetracked defending an authority figure… must be getting old.
Anyway, the entire story is set in the backdrop of an Ireland that has recently seen the arrival of Christianity so ‘pagan’ traditions such as forest spirits and the Crom Cruach (a deity who was satiated by the medium of human sacrifice), which aids in the creation of a fantastical and somewhat threatening world. It speaks to the whole argument that just because you say something does not exist it does not make it so, and for Brendan and his forest spirit ally Aisling the danger posed by these ancient non-Christian beings is very real indeed. Thus the film exists in many conflicts. Christianity versus paganism. Immediate versus the immortal. Visions versus reality.
It is rare to find an animated film outside of East Asia and nations that existed behind the Iron Curtain that deals with such complex conflicting ideas. The fact that this is an independent hand-drawn animation makes it all the more impressive. It is also an incredibly beautiful film to look at which is in part to the distinctive look that has been adopted. It is refreshing to see an animated film that takes such care to emulate a more unknown art form (in this case traditional Irish art) and this helps to make the visuals incredibly engaging. Despite the influences being vastly different some of the characters did call to mind those in the graphic novel and film Persepolis.
I will probably be making this three animated films in a row considering my current run. I have a film in mind but whether it is the one I will end up doing is anybody’s guess.