Many years before penning a gritty urban novel (“Rage”, 2009), to be filmed by none other than Guillermo del Toro, and writing the short story “Cinismo”, which formed the basis of the critically acclaimed film “XXY”, Argentine Sergio Bizzio busied himself writing and directing unusual little oddities such as this, Animalada (“Animal”).
Now, the premise upon which Animalada is built is, frankly, ridiculous. Most impressive it is, therefore, that it tells us something about modern society which is more poignant today than when the film was first released, back in 2001.
Aging Alberto is fed up with his moneyed and excessively opulent lifestyle with uber-successful wife Natalie, whose principle obsession appears to be with the clothing and activities of various British royal celebrities. Feeling particularly alienated from her one evening, he wonders outside to deal with an errant sheep. The sheep in question gently sniffs his hand, and the wheels are set in motion for Alberto’s obsession with “Fanny”, his beloved woollen female companion. Before long, Alberto is saving Fanny from the slaughterhouse, spending time with her in the barn on the special rug he procures for her comfort, and...well, I’ll leave the more base aspects to your imagination.
Such an inter-species union is always doomed, and carnage ensues as Alberto adopts more extreme and desperate measures to protect and build his forbidden love with Fanny. Sometimes, this is with hilarious results; Alberto dancing around Fanny on the hillside will have you laughing through a painful cringe, as will the scene where he takes a Polaroid shot of the two “lovers”. Legitimising his “love” for the animal during the wedding scene is a surreal delight, and his delusion is clear when he believes that Fanny is learning his name. Al-baa-to...
At other points, the humour is of the blackest variety. As farm hand Miranda meets his demise at the end of Alberto’s pitchfork following his “taking” of Fanny, he cries to Alberto “I think you’ve had more to drink than me boss!”. At other times, proceedings are as bizarre as you might expect. Son Gaston’s 50s band, for example, makes a strange appearance in the picture at a practice session, Alberto’s obsession with Fanny results in him transforming himself into a sheep using foam in the shower, and there’s a strange noir Cinderella homage when the Argentine police ask Alberto and his son to try on the shoe from a local murder scene to find the killer.
Whilst Animalada can certainly be enjoyed as a delightfully odd black horror, Bizzio’s picture deserves a closer look. Whilst initially disgusted with himself for his attraction to “Fanny”, Alberto begins to throw off the shackles of his pampered lifestyle, rediscovering the joys of the countryside, and he realises that he had previously lost touch with his love of nature. This is in stark contrast to wife Natalie, whose obsession with celebrities and wealth is as far detached from the humanity of nature as seems possible. Whilst Alberto’s forbidden relationship is in any sane person’s eyes wrong (not least because an animal cannot provide consent to his actions), his rediscovery of the countryside and rejection of the moneyed and celebrity-obsessed sphere of his wife strikes a chord that resounds even more clearly today.
The film is presented using an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Colours are vibrant, and the detail is clear enough. There are some minor flecks on the images in places, but this is limited and certainly not noticeable enough to harm your enjoyment of the oddity unravelling before your eyes.
The audio uses Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and the clarity of the sound is noticeable at certain moments. For instance, whilst Alberto and Natalie sit for breakfast, and the shot suddenly cuts to some rusty barbed wire with a screech at a particularly uncomfortable moment in the conversation, the sound is clearly delivered to great effect. Over and above that, the sound delivery is adequate but doesn't stand out.
The subtitles are clear in white, and there doesn't appear to be any overlap with white images on the screen. The translation works the story well and there are no perceptible errors.
Well, take your pick between a theatrical trailer, and a chapter selections option. Then again, what sort of extras do you want for a black comedy about inter-species relationships?
Sergio Bizzio's blackly comic horror foray into a human-bestial relationship should have been awful, but thanks to the humour, the performances, and the commentary on our society - one which is obsessed with moving away from nature and towards the cold world of plastic celebrities - actually manages to be an enjoyable and engaging spectacle. If you find yourself enjoying this film for other reasons, you need to seek specialist help. Straight away.