Let’s say, hypothetically, you love dogs, independent films, and Fauvist artists like Henri Matisse. Have I got a movie for you! It might help if you also like your joy tinged with the bittersweet. “Life has taught me happiness is just a break from the pain”, says the pup narrator from the title of new animated feature Marona’s Fantastic Tale, and she should know.
Romanian director Anca Damian and screenwriter Anghel Damian, in partnership with Belgian artist Brecht Evens, have created a whimsical, moving animated feature that is truly artistry in motion. Whether it is something children should see, depends on their maturity and sensitivity, since the story starts with the central character, a mixed-breed pup alternately named Nine, Ana, Sara, and finally Marona, being hit by a car. She contemplates her life as she lays dying in the middle of a busy highway. This dog (voiced by Lizzie Brocheré), who has ears that look like wings, takes the audience through her life, and her experiences with the humans she lives with, alternately warming and breaking your heart with her embrace of momentary joys, and her often unanswered searches for love.
As you may have gathered, Marona’s Fantastic Tale is tad morose, like much film from Romania. Mix that with the aesthetic of the French dialogue and production design, and you get a blunt, philosophical, yet contemplative feature that stays with you, creating a nearly unquenchable desire to head directly to the nearest pound and adopt every pooch in the place.
There is such joy in the work of Evens, which strikes as a mix of the style of Fauvists like Matisse and Derain, and the secret illustrations by Theodore Geisel. If you go to the website for Brecht Evens, you’ll find yourself gladly slipping down a very colorful rabbit hole. Each time Nine gets a change of venue, or rather another chance to lay her loyalty at the feet of another human, the visual palette and designs shift, but there remains a consistency of color, as well as the commitment to using animation to express more than just action.
The creativity and invention of that animation, the way emotions, personalities, and experiences are shown in inventive, artistic ways, that makes Marona’s Fantastic Tale so vibrant, compelling and, I’d even say, magical to watch. Evens’s point of view, and the loving care taken by artists who worked on the film, are on display in every scene. That includes three animation houses; Tu Nous Za Pas Vus, Marmitafilms, and Services Adriatic Animation Studios. The music by Pablo Pico is also very memorable and à propos, especially the song Happiness, which informs us during the (likely tearful) end credits that ‘happiness is a small thing’ and to ‘jump up, jump up, high as you can’. Taken on its own, which can be done through Apple Music as well as other music streaming services, the score is still a delight.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale is full of life observations and advice, like when Nine’s first human Manole, who calls her Ana, informs her, “Each time you fall, remember it could have been from a farther height”, or when Nine as narrator advises us to “lick your human’s face every day as though it were the last”. These are messages we could all do well to remember right now.
5 out of 5 stars.