Director – Anton Dyakov – 2020 – Russia – 15m 15s
A pencil-thin ballerina becomes involved with a rough, stocky boxer. Some things seem destined not to be… And yet… – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Short Films In Competition section – Official 1
Olya and Evgeny live near each other’s flats. When running to catch the subway train, tall, thin ballerina Olya’s movements are grace personified, the epitome of precision timing. The world of shorter, stocky boxer Evgeny, whose face is a patchwork of scars from his career in the ring, couldn’t be more different. Should she object to the hands of her choreographer on her leg when he’s showing her the position she needs to achieve? Is he being a little overly fresh? She’s unaware of Evgeny buying booze from the local shop and drinking it at home.
Then one day, he sees her in distress and rescues her cat from a tree. She invites him in for a cup of tea, but his embarrassment there causes him to know a cup off the table, breaking it. She takes him to an art gallery, a shooting gallery, roller skating. He retrieves her bag after she’s robbed in broad daylight. He goes to watch her at the ballet, but sees her drive off with her choreographer. But finally, Olya and Evgeny end up together sharing a log cabin in the hills and, a caption informs us, a life full of surprises.
The characters are beautifully designed. Olya and her fellow ballerinas have waists and legs as thin as pencils, contrasting heavily with the thick, ring adorned fingers on her choreographer’s hands or the thick muscle lining Evgeny’s neck and torso. The news announcements on the TV in his flat speak of mafia killings, a man in a car with a bullet in his head. When he rescues the cat, he endures a fall from a high up branch with the cat clinging to his head as he falls.
Sitting in her flat with its pink flowers on the wallpaper and his thickset face adorned with multiple sticking plasters, he looks absurd even as he drinks from her dainty teacup. When he fights an opponent in the ring, the punches are violent and brutal. As a gift, he takes a huge bag of salt up the stairs to her flat, rings the doorbell and runs away. She answers the door and the bulky sack, with a little trickle of salt, stands in for his thick body and its contrast with her thin one.
Alone in the foyer for the ballet he looks distinctly out of his depth, downing in one a fluted glass of wine offered by a waiter and unceremoniously bumping in to her choreographer without either of them having the slightest notion as to who the other might be. He’s profoundly moved by the ballet itself, like a blow to the head by a rival boxer (at the start of a fight into which the narrative segues). The scene where he turns up in his car after the show with a posy of flowers only to see the hesitant Olya enter the choreographer’s chauffeur-driven car is heartbreaking as the dropped flowers wash down a nearby drain.
In a coup of comic timing, he’s doing weight exercises watching the TV when she appears on the screen, striking him dumb until he realises he’s just dropped the weight on his foot. His influence on Olya’s heart is beautifully expressed when instead of slapping her choreographer for being a little too free with his hands, she punches him in the face. Hers on him is shown by his refusal to have a four wing nuts taped onto his knuckles before a ring fight (which he goes on to lose) amidst a sea of bloodlust-driven, paying audience faces as the horrified Olya looks on.
The whole thing plays masterfully with stereotypes, something that as here animation can do supremely well. Its three characters are simple, yet it understands them at great depth. There is no voice cast, the piece being played out using music and sound but no spoken word. Genius.
Boxballet plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2021 which is taking place right now in both online and hybrid editions this year in the Short Films In Competition section – Official 1.