Film note: Animals, directed by Marçal Forés

Marçal Forés' mysterious Animals from Spain is one of my favorite film discoveries of 2012. It's way underseen.

Last updated on June 18th, 2022 at 10:55 am

No lie, I’d just finished re-reading Susan Sontag’s influential essay, Against Interpretation, when I decided to rewatch this fascinating and enigmatic first feature by Marçal Forés in which we’re constantly asked to decide if Deefhoof, a disturbed and socially anxious 17-year-old boy’s best friend, is just a stuffed animal or if he’s instead a decent drummer and also an astute literary critic.

a boy and his deerhoof

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“I like it when characters have to deal with the limits of their desires,” Deerhoof comments within the first 10 minutes of this film, as he follows his boy Pol on a shortcut through the forest. (In my head, I said, Me too!) The pair reminded me of an erudite Pooh and Christopher Robin at that point, though the film gets compared to Ted more often and hastily. Then Deefhoof gets set upon by a stray dog. Oh! Oh! he says in that pathetic electronic voice, somehow comic and distressing at once, in its earnestness and its awkward cadence, kind of like the Charles Burns comic the two were talking about.

So, it would be a shame if I were forced to conclude one way or another if Deerhoof, or if Pol, were “real” or the originator of that question, and it is a question though its form is a statement. It’s much more fun to feel my way through this movie, experiencing what Pol’s first same-sex kiss is like, for example, and how the shock of that discovery compares to a knife blade in the crook of one’s arm.

We never learn why Deerhoof speaks English; why the kids all go to an English-language school in a scenic valley in Spain (although those schools are common for children of the elite in European countries); why the name of Pol’s crush is Japanese; who killed Clara, if anyone; if Ikari is dead, too and what the fuck was he carrying in his backpack the last we saw of him?

There are a number of influences seen in the signifiers in this movie. Pol is a kind of Donnie Darko character, although his precociousness and damage is really the extent of the similarities. I kept getting reminded of Robert Mulligan‘s gothic horror film The Other, for some reason. When Pol meets himself at the end I knew why.

Visually, it has much in common with Robin Campillo‘s (BPM) incredible Les Revenants from 2004, and from the later television show based on it. All three are set in a misty valley full of rich people and feature individuals who may nor may not be dead. Bridges and lakes are prominent aspects of the environment as well. And if it makes any sense, Animals feels more French than it does Spanish, despite the language being spoken. (Note: I was corrected on Letterboxd: The cast speaks Catalan, not Spanish. Deerhoof, however, speaks Spanish. Another mystery.)

So, it’s not wholly original, and its disparate influences do start pulling it apart toward the end, but it is one of the more interesting and lovely-looking discoveries I made last year. As an added bonus, the soundtrack, even the indie rock, is pretty good, featuring primitive guitar work by Oriol Pla, who plays young, twinky bow-legged Pol. I also don’t really have any idea what it’s about, exactly, and that’s a relief.

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