Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Emma Calder "The Queen's Monastery" (1998)

Plot rarely tells the story. The bare bones of Emma Calder’s The Queen's Monastery are easily related. Woman in black remembers her acrobat husband before he returned from war a broken man. The six minute film has an inspiring soundtrack from Czech composer Leoš Janáček whose Sinfonietta triggered Emma’s film. The music was itself inspired by a military band, the texture of the piece translated quite brilliantly by the director, from cart wheeling acrobat to marching soldiers. If the music is inspiring so is the technique. Emma uses watercolour in an extravagant, lush application as in the close-ups of the lovers embracing, the girl tweaking the military moustache in comical fashion; at other moments the brush strokes are mere dabs or lines, almost stick men as the troupe of acrobats form their tableaux or the woman’s lover dances in front of her voluminous dress. The film hints at emotion or events, the woman turning away from her dark room towards the sea, an image intermingled with the billowing curtains, whilst the impassioned wartime scenes has soldier fighting soldier, a battle that continues on the domestic front as embracing lovers are interrupted in a ravishingly depicted fight scene. Remorse, guilt, loneliness and fantasy are elements explored in an at times richly coloured and always symbolic romance that I am surprised is not better known. It was the first animated film to receive money from the UK's National Lottery. The enigmatic title puzzled me: a tragic Queen landlocked in a dark monastery. Leoš was a choirboy and later director at the Augustinian Queen's Monastery in Old Brno, Moravia.



Emma Calder's Moody Days said...

Thanks for your review. The weird thing was, that I wrote the story of the film before I had done any research on Janecek. I had imagined every bit of action from just listening to the music. I thought acrobats and town square. He had written the music originally to accompany a gym display and to celebrate freedom from war, whilst sitting in Bruno Town Square. I thought Monastery and stairs, then I found out the piece was actually called The Queen's Monastery and he had been to school in a monastery. I thought obsessive love and love fantasies and found out he had been obsessively in love with a younger woman for years, whilst being married, although the love was unrequited. I thought running monkeys and found out that he had actually scored the piece after anallising monkey noises in the local zoo.

I also agree it would be nice to get the film seen more. It did win a few prizes but it should have won more, unfortunately many people in the animation community don't know good stuff when they see it. Luckily for other people I have managed to pick some good winners over the years when I have been on Juries like BAFTA. But there you go, can't judge your own films.

Ian Lumsden said...

Thank you for the background detail, Emma. I wondered about the title. It fitted though and the music is capable of interpreation in a number of ways.

For what it is worth, I think I can spot good stuff and I loved your work. I didn't mention it in the review but the combination of the cream and red works well, and the marching soldiers as you zoom in eye catching.

If you look at viewing figures on YouTube you will see what the great public likes in animation.

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