Sunday, 27 April 2008

Caroline Leaf "The Street"

The Street is one of the finest animations I have seen and its creator, Caroline Leaf, one of the all time greats. This is a classic of the first order. Made in 1976, the paint on glass movie provides an at times unsettling perspective on life though I guess it is accurate. Based on a semi-autobiographical story by Mordecai Richler, The Street is situated in the Jewish immigrant community of Montreal in the 1930s. The central character is a young boy aged 7 at the commencement of the movie who has to share a bedroom with his older sister in what is already an overcrowded tenement apartment. In a precious bedroom the boy's grandmother is dying though she takes rather longer to do this than the doctor originally decreed. The boy has been promised her room when it becomes available. Two years pass. The old woman no longer communicates in any meaningful sense while the boy grows more and more impatient for her death - though he obeys his parents and dutifully kisses his grandmother's unresponsive forehead. Mother is over-worked and over-wrought, so much so that she has to go to hospital; the grandmother goes to a home until, that is, racked with guilt, Mother returns and so does Grandmother. Father explains more than once how lucky he is, though allow for the deepest irony here: his eyes look directly at us and he takes time to chew on a toffee to reflect on his good fortune. Meantime, the boy's talk is callous both with his sister and his friends. Truths and non-truths about death and ghosts abound. When the moment arrives that the room becomes available the boy is no longer so keen, perhaps feeling guilt, more likely a terror of the dead encouraged by his sister's teasing. The voices are expressive and authentic, never more so than the narrator, Mort Ransen. One scene is exquisite. As the family gather round on the death of the grandmother, we are treated to a magnificent "camera" panorama of the domestic scene as our view weaves in and out of the assembled people crowded in the apartment. The boy's uncle and the rabbi go for a smoke on the balcony:
"There's been a death in the family, your heart is broken, and yet it's a splendid summer day, a day made for love and laughter. And that must seem very cruel to you...... and yet it's remarkable that she held out so long."
"It's amazing - the mysteries of the human heart."
The dialogue is amazing, the direction and the soft delicately drawn animation astonishing. In this magnificent scene the artistry of the director is wonderful to behold. The "camera" tours the tenements as the men speak, a mass of washing on lines and the noise of a busy community. In short, a movie with economy of visual detail, gloriously smooth transition of images, humour and understanding. The movie is available in compilation form: Leonard Maltin's Animation Favorites From the National Film Board of Canada.

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