Director – Georges Schwizgebel – 2017 – Switzerland – 2m 26s
This film is based on the eponymous painting by Paulo Uccello in London’s National Gallery which has produced this helpful filmed talk about it. The painting’s subject matter is a 1432 battle between two regional Italian armies. The camera as we know it today didn’t exist at that time and had it done so, Uccello might anyway not have been very interested in using it to record an historical record as such. He seems to be more interested in constructing representational images, forms, and the illusion of three dimensional space.
What interests Schwizgebel is not so much the subject of the painting but the painting itself. It’s a study of the painting in much the same way that painters make studies of subjects with a view to exploring them, perhaps for use in a larger composition. Whether he is employing animation in quite the right medium is debatable. When I say medium, I mean that of the short film.
This short feels less like a film with a beginning, middle and end and more like a cycling loop of images which could go on for ever, so much so that I’ve found myself going back to it and re-watching in whole or in part. It isn’t that I want to re-watch the film: it’s more that I want to revisit its subject matter. In the contest of a screening of short films in a theatre, this short would be pretty frustrating. I can imagine it as a looped projection in an art gallery, perhaps in the same room as or the next room to Uccello’s painting, with the viewer wandering into the room and viewing the piece from the time of entry to the time of departure, however brief or long that might be. Or perhaps there’s the basis here for an exploratory virtual reality environment taking the viewer through aspects of the painting.
This short film configuration starts and ends on two static images – the opening a set of near vertical lances in the foreground with mounted horsemen in the distance, a detail of the wider panorama of the whole painting which closes the piece. Or perhaps it isn’t, because the details of the painting morph as the camera moves over and around the cycling artwork taking in specific areas of its layout. Schwizgebel takes great delight in morphing one physical element into another: a knight turns into a horse which in turn becomes a horse carrying a knight, all of which seems to articulate something of the camera’s journey around / over / through the morphing image as much as it does any idea of an actual battle.
Uccello’s painting is fascinating and as an animated exploration of it Schwizgebel’s piece equally so. Whether a short film is the best way to present Schwizgebel’s extraordinary study of Uccello’s painting is debatable, but animation is most definitely what he’s about. I sincerely hope he puts his animation out into the world in another form or forms, easily accessible by audiences and open to multiple viewings and/or lengthier exploration.
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Annecy Animation Festival special online edition:
Monday, June 15th to Tuesday, June 30th.