Ugly by Nikita Diakur

Nikita Diakur’s Ugly has debuted online, an experimental short film that won the 2017 Ottowa International Animation Festival’s Grand Prize. Via Short of the Week:

Just in time for September’s 2018 Ottawa International Animation Festival, the reigning Grand Prize winner has debuted online. Nikita Diakur’s daringly experimental short utilizes a CG technique the filmmaker has described as “interactive animation”, and in doing so has been lauded for opening up a new frontier for the form. Leaning into the mathematical randomness of the digital process rather than fighting against it, Diakur seemingly cold, deconstructed aesthetic is actually imbued with soul—by relinquishing control through dynamic simulations in a form of digital puppetry, Diakur absorbs the “performances” of his characters, allowing them to participate in their own depiction—a generative process the result of which are as much a surprise to their creator as to the audience.

The film’s plot follows the travails of an ugly cat, abandoned and alone, and how its pure desire to connect and give love is repeatedly rebuffed—by kids, by firefighters, by roving packs of dogs—until it is received and accepted by an indigenous chief, Redbear Easterman (credited as a co-director of the film). It’s an allegorical tale, based off an anonymous internet story sourced by Diakur when seeking inspiration for the project. It’s beautifully sad, though the particulars of the plot and its climax are more impressionistic than particular, leading to surreal end that is likely to frustrate viewers whose tastes lean towards more grounded storytelling. I agree with this potential complaint somewhat—the poetic spirituality of the piece feels like a bit of a tonal mismatch to the deconstructed aesthetic, hindering a true sense of elevation, and as such I expect the primarily appeal of the film will lie with those who appreciate it on a stylistic/intellectual level, as opposed to crossing over to mainstream audiences.

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