Thursday, June 13, 2024

“FLOW”

THE STORYThe world seems to be coming to an end, teeming with the vestiges of a human presence. Cat is a solitary animal, but as its home is devastated by a great flood, he finds refuge on a boat populated by various species, and will have to team up with them despite their differences. In the lonesome boat sailing through mystical overflowed landscapes, they navigate the challenges and dangers of adapting to this new world.

THE CASTN/A

THE TEAMGints Zilbalodis (Director/Writer) & Matīss Kaža (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 85 Minutes


In the early days of the 2010’s, when teens were mainly preoccupied by the ear-worm-inducing tunes of Katy Perry and LMFAO, a young Latvian artist started to take interest in the animation medium. Without knowing the international success that would later follow his body of work, Gints Zilbalodis devoted his time by continuously working on a passionate personal project. His later years of adolescence were spent practicing and learning quintessential skills with professional software such as Photoshop, Toon Boom Animate Pro, After Effects, Logic Pro, and Final Cut Pro. The self-produced “Aqua” (2012) was released after two years of continuous craft. In the short dialogue-less narrative, we follow a non-descript cat stuck in the middle of a natural catastrophe. A flood inundates the feline’s habitat, displaced and forcefully pressured by the reins of Mother Nature’s reckoning to adapt to its surroundings. In seven affecting minutes, Zilbalodis sets integral motifs, themes, and techniques that would later permeate throughout his decade-sprawling filmography, showcasing his remarkable artistic evolution. 

Self-contained with cinema’s greatest implementation of a Capybara since Eadweard Muybridge’s “Capybara Walking (1887), the renowned Latvian filmmaker returns to his inaugural source material with his latest feature, “Flow.” Collaborating with Eurimages & Sacrebleu productions, the international scale of the project provided a unique team experience. With “Flow, Zilbalodis emulates the thematic tapestry of his emotional short, excavating cinematic explorations regarding evolution, adaptation, and social tolerances in the process. As “Flow references the base-level foundation of Aqua’s thematic & narrative instigators, Zilbalodis cleverly reconstructs and expands upon his artistic authorship with a bountiful command of the natural order. 

From the get-go, Zilbalodis and his team stray away from the Hollywoodization of perfect textures and photo-realistic fur. For the film’s design, the movement and velocity of the composition provide the electrifying orchestration of the dialogue-less narrative. There’s an insatiable amount of artifice in nearly every shot, dirtying and shaking the handheld movements to enforce a naturalistic filter. Rejecting a gentrified pastiche, Zilbalodis’ cinematography provides crane tilts, whip-pans, and free-flowing disorientation to accompany the film’s impressive catalog of one-take wonders. Comparisons to Terrence Malick’s signature cinematographic style are justified, as “Flow’s” visual expressionism finds live-action inspiration in the buoyant Blender-created universe. The impossibilities and financial limitations of large-scaled natural-disaster setpieces are now achievable with a smaller-scaled team of dedicated artists & animators. The 3D playground permits the accessible artistic opportunity to enunciate the visual language — enforcing the fixation of the mute anthropomorphized subjects as a tool to dictate a physical & allegorical separation between land, prey & predator. 

With the exception of one needless aerial-bound sequence, the film is rarely standoffish in its cinematic form. However, the gargantuan scope during the aforementioned scene distracts the viewer from the film’s intended collective delusion. Obviousness as sustained by cinematic viscerally diminishes the effect of the technique, calling attention to the tech-demo artifice at the scene of the crime. As a complete piece, Zilbalodis would have benefited from a more patient directorial approach, holding onto the duration of his compositions with more room to breathe and sink within the lush poetry of his vast lands. Perfection is never the key to success, as fluidity takes emotional precedence. 

In the context of its narrative form, “Flow is clearly aware of its fictionalized recounts; borrowing from our collective understanding of animal behavior and storytelling traditions. Narratives involving animalistic symbology have circulated our planet for centuries; with the preservation of “Aesop’s Fables and “Noah’s Ark as vital examples. “Flow is more or less indebted to the aforementioned traditions; preoccupied by the morals and lessons consumed during its formidable runtime. Zilbalodis confidently showcases the juxtaposition of traditionalist society with an inciting apocalyptic blow, where the divide between creatures is eradicated with the demand for survival. “Flow is an adventure flick, an animated gem that avoids its subgenre’s nastier colonial undertones. Zilbalodis advocates for refuge and compassion, as the mortality of the creatures awakens the film’s unabashed confrontations with death. “Flow” isn’t a children’s picture per se — as the feature’s climactic peak offers plentiful theological insight by implementing smooth ambiances, intergalactic drones, and colorful compositions, provoking thought and intellectual stimulation. 

At its sentimental core, “Flow is a tale about straying away from the power structures that divide our complex societies. In unity, the animals begin their alliance within the cataclysmic inundation, discovering a new balance in their displaced waterworlds. Unraveling the decadence and debris of lost civilizations, Zilbalodis spotlights an energetic retriever, a covetous lemur, a proud secretary bird, a resourceful capybara, and an observant black cat on an unconventional journey. In many regards, “Flow is a perfect continuation of Zilbalodis’ oeuvre — a conclusive master’s thesis of long-digesting provocations regarding the limits of evolution and the beauty in shared survival. Akin to the film’s contemplative thematics, “Flow begins and concludes with a literal reflection. As the helpless animals stare at their unified body of water, drifting in their self-image, the resonance of their indifferences embraces the imminence of a natural calamity. 

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Enraptured by its dialogue-less form, Flow beautifully showcases the intricacies of survival with an expressionistic vision. Zilbalodis's follow-up to "Away" (2019) is a tranquil meditation on evolution, mortality, and co-existence, offering a unique perspective that will surely intrigue animation fans and film enthusiasts.

THE BAD - A more patient and poetic storytelling approach would have amplified the power of Zilbalodis' profound insights. While mostly effective as a vital storytelling tool, the technique itself occasionally drifts into tech-demo territory.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Animated Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Enraptured by its dialogue-less form, Flow beautifully showcases the intricacies of survival with an expressionistic vision. Zilbalodis's follow-up to "Away" (2019) is a tranquil meditation on evolution, mortality, and co-existence, offering a unique perspective that will surely intrigue animation fans and film enthusiasts.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>A more patient and poetic storytelling approach would have amplified the power of Zilbalodis' profound insights. While mostly effective as a vital storytelling tool, the technique itself occasionally drifts into tech-demo territory.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-animated-feature/">Best Animated Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"FLOW"