Director Adrien Merigeau’s second short film received the Audi Short Film Award at this year’s 70th Berlinale.
Genius Loci takes us on a ride with ‘Reine’ in her mind and the city streets she wanders around at night. This concrete jungle she gets lost in is a frightening place, but her imagination lends it a kind of spark, the ‘genius loci’ of her mind:
somewhere on the edge, on a tightrope between beauty and terror. Watching this story unfold feels like being on a rollercoaster in slow-motion. The animated drawings transform how you see and feel everything around you.
Everything seems so strange and captivating.
Sounds of something pounding, like heartbeats. A hand fiddling with a cigarette, face pitch black but then, swirls of pink smoke and eyes opening up wide. In Genius Loci, each and every image pulls you in. Everything seems so strange and captivating. In this award-winning animated film, drawings come alive before our eyes to express the enigma of things and find beauty where we might least expect it: earrings thrown on the table next to a set of keys, the music a soup makes when it simmers, or the toy of a baby who looks like a magician with his amulet.
Every detail, every gesture is imbued with wonder, one split second of an image leads on to the next so seamlessly: the story deconstructs and transforms our perception of space and time, one moment at a time.
Being underwater, together
Chaos like a Kandinsky painting
These words in the voice-over re-appear as dust in a notebook, then they are blown off only to fly up into stars through the window. In a world of speed where reality can feel overwhelming, Genius Loci invites us to take a step back from it all and observe. To marvel at the small things in life through our capacity to imagine and to dream.
In this short story, the protagonist’s name is ‘Reine’ (French for Queen). We follow this young woman in her apartment, then in the maze of the city she loses herself in. Chaos is all around and within her
“It is always there, just changing scales. It transforms things, people, ideas …“
Chaos indoors is like a Kandinsky painting: the glass of water that she spills floods the kitchen, mixing everything up: the colours, the shapes, the objects, the boiling pan overflowing in watercolours, lines and patterns that look painterly. This feels more like an aquarium… until her sister opens the curtain, onto the urban sprawl outside.
“Queen, Queen, calm down …”
The cigarette ashes we saw earlier are now flames, raw like a wood cut engraving, fierce. A can spills some kind of liquid: one might think of Coke, but this one looks viscous, it spreads on the ground of the city like petrol.
The pond smiles, retracts, becomes a triangle which turns into an eye-spirit. A lady with her shopping bags faces the wind, the flying papers turn into foxes. Reine picks up a fallen apple, the woman catches fire and the apple vibrates like a smartphone… These sequences are gorgeous to see, they create a kind of ripple effect.
The city is also a soundscape that surrounds Reine as she walks around it aimlessly -across tunnels and alleyways, past grim places where she faces the distrust or malice of people. This neon forest is somehow attractive too.
“It was beautiful what you were playing … like a thunderstorm that made music”
Reine’s compliment goes to her pianist friend, Rosie. The tension between them resonates like the cacophony of the organ in the church. Everything turns upside down in Reine’s mind. Rosie freezes into a tree, and Reine becomes a dog, barking and fleeing…
“Queen, Queen, calm down. Listen to me, everything is fine. You decide”
The title’s Genius Loci, the ‘spirit of the place’, is perhaps Queen’s imagination which overflows and transforms everything, from dismal to extraordinary, chaos into beauty. Her mind is the spark amidst the darkness:
“We can’t stop it, we can watch it. It is a movement, it is brilliant, like a kind of guide. We listen to it … “
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Author: Alexandra Etienne