AAFF 2017 | Totally Out There/Classic AAFF: "The Pink Egg" & more


The Pink Egg
Features in Competition | Totally Out There | Classic AAFF
If you're going to make a film that fits the aesthetic of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Luis Bunuel makes for a near-perfect starting point. Director Jim Trainor begins The Pink Egg with a quote from the celebrated surrealist: "You can find all of Shakespeare and De Sade in the lives of insects." That sentence offers a pithy declaration of artistic intent, and Trainor follows through, offering viewers a one-of-a-kind evocation of the animal world.

Employing boldly minimalistic and colorful sets that could double for an unhinged, low-budget children's program, Trainor casts humans clad in long-sleeved, hooded unitards to act out the mating rituals, lifecycles, and surprisingly human experiences of various wasps, bees, and insects. Alternately humorous, tragic, and inspiring, The Pink Egg remains a defiantly uncommercial picture due to the lack of dialogue, and the seemingly bizarre actions of the nameless characters. You may find yourself asking why some of the female characters paint pink and blue tubes with lotion, meant to represent seminal fluid, and why those tubes suddenly change color.

While watching Trainor's idiosyncratic approach, there are some previous works that come to mind. Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno series makes an obvious antecedent, but where that program focused specifically on the sexual habits of various animals, Trainor goes deeper. Rossellini wanted to educate, but Trainor would rather engage emotionally. Having worked primarily as an animator, Trainor breaks away from that discipline here by having people embody animals we usually disregard as pests. Projecting yourself into these creatures' lives becomes easier with a human face attached to them. Because of that artistic choice, viewers connect directly when the characters escape predators, protect their offspring, and find the right mate. Their goals and obstacles become more relatable, and so you feel a greater affinity for these animals. Just try not remembering how exhausting the life of a worker bee is the next time you swat one away.

The end credits provide a bibliography of nonfiction texts that Trainor, who also credits himself as "researcher," absorbed while prepping this ambitious project. That said, The Pink Egg is not a documentary. While it's true that the movie needs only a traditional David Attenborough voiceover explaining what you are watching, and the removal of some brief nudity, to make it palatable to a wider audience, making those adjustments would rob the film of its artistic merit. The Pink Egg does not preach, but it demands viewers make sense of what they are seeing on their own terms before researching the facts.

Considering the film's unconventional look, liberal use of fast-motion, and lack of exposition, Trainor deserves much credit for working up as much empathy as he does for his subjects. His intellectual cinematic approach utilizes purposefully distancing film techniques: all the sound has been added in post, the songs recall the ones in David Lynch's Eraserhead, and the special effects throw off your sense of scale. The overall effect occasionally recalls the work of director Shane Carruth, particularly the second half of Upstream Color, another movie that drew parallels between humans and animals.

One would be hard-pressed to think of a more perfect film to play at the Totally Out There/Classic AFF track than this, which is also making its world premiere. The only irony is that Trainor, who has made animals the center of much of his work, shows us what is "out there" may be more like us than we ever considered. March 22, 9:15 pm | Michigan Theater Screening Room

More Totally Out There/Classic AAFF films:

100 Years of Dada: Dada in Dialogue With the Present
Shorts Program | Totally Out There | Classic AAFF
Dada is one of those artistic movements that everybody feels comfortable referencing, but few people genuinely understand. Although that seems fitting for a style devoted to upending not just conventional concepts of art, but the belief that anything can be understood at all. This collection of eight shorts, culled from between 1924 and 2014, showcases how the Dada movement evolved over time, and features works from recognized masters like René Clair and Marcel Duchamp alongside projects from newer names like Mónica Savirón and Mirai Mizue. March 23, 7:30 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Pat Oleszko, live and in person
Shorts Program | Totally Out There | Classic AAFF
A performance artist comfortable in a variety of media, Pat Oleszko delivers a unique live experience followed by a half-dozen avant-garde shorts (included in "Films in Competition 6") including one from the University of Michigan's own Terri Sarris. March 24, 7 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Shorts Program | Totally Out There | Classic AAFF
Directors Sofia Caetano, who will be in attendance when her film screens, and Elliot Sheedy have crafted a sci-fi religious-tinged comedy (included in "Films in Competition 6") about a god-like figure who sends a pair of teenagers into the Garden of Eden with a way to achieve the title condition. March 24, 7 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Totally Out There | Classic AAFF
According to directors Joji Koyama and Tujiko Noriko, Kuro examines how the stories we use to make sense of our lives are not always under our control. The film centers on a woman who entertains her paraplegic boyfriend by making up outlandish stories based on incidents from their shared past. March 25, 5 pm | Michigan Theater Screening Room

Totally Out There | Classic AAFF | Shorts in Competition
Loosely inspired by the 1926 Man Ray film Emak Bakia, Kathryn Ramey's ELONA EM EVAEL/LEAVE ME ALONE (included in "Films in Competition 13") utilizes unconventional techniques -- she created the five-minute work without a motion picture camera -- to juxtapose the everyday lives of people in stable countries with victims of military actions performed by the armed forces of those same countries. March 25, 9:30 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Perry Seibert is a movie lover, freelance writer, and founding member of the Detroit Film Critics Society. Follow him on twitter @Perrylovesfilm.

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