David Cuevas takes a look at ‘Charlotte′, as part of FilmHounds’ ongoing Toronto International Film Festival coverage.

Decade sprawling biographical productions are no stranger to the cinematic art-form. We’ve all at least seen one biopic that has in some shape or another predominantly focused on a tragic artist or relevant cultural figure. But the slow inclination of animated biographical stories is a staggering new trend. Ever since the success and global phenomenon of Loving Vincent, the inclusion of historical-fiction works — found within the animation medium— has been on the steady rise. Admittedly, major studios aren’t willing to take giant artistic risks with countless hours of dedicated animation committees, so the existence of independent productions and local government financing are the prominent reasons why we’re slowly seeing more historical films told through an animated lens. Adapted from the life and paintings of Charlotte Salomon — an artist known to be the sole proprietor of the first ever documented graphic novel — the aptly titled ‘Charlotte’ manoeuvres through her tragic career and life as an aspiring Jewish artist amidst Nazi-operated chaos and spiralling anti-semitism.

As expected, directors Eric Warin & Tahir Rana utilise the medium to stylistically self-reflect their subject through the power of design. Whilst the thick line-work and pale complexions are slightly distant in homage from the original ‘Life? or Theatre?’ artistic piece, the film’s more severe missing link is in its attention to motion. Keyframe animation is the key detractor, where polished movement leaves little to no room for error. The artificial movement is a safe artistic choice, serving bare scrapes of creative ingenuity for a film about the life and final days of a great unconventional artist. A more experimental design choice would have provided further semblance of creative prowess; a hybrid of digitised animation and hand-painted movement could have also provided a more purposeful and absorbing storytelling mode. 

Still Courtesy – Elevation Pictures

Yet it’s ultimately Charlotte‘s narrative that compliments the key emotional beats. Again, just like the film’s design, the structure plays itself safe  where there’s little breathing room for further artistic innovation. But perhaps it’s the set of distinct emotional payoffs that provide some semblance of emotional stakes. From intense discussions on self-harm and even sexuality, Charlotte‘s subject matter is purely for the eyes of adults only. It’s a refreshing change of pace; a piece of animated entertainment that is neither crude nor insensitive, but rather purposefully proactive in its contemporary subject matter. 

Regardless of a lack of distinct visual flare or some questionable euro-centric voice casting (seriously, why does everyone sound so bloody British?), there’s a dedicated motive at the crux of Charlotte. Underwhelming in pastiche but absorbing in its structurally-reminiscent plot, the dedication and meaningful thought put into this star-studded film is more than justified; even with some occasional hiccups along the way. 

Still Courtesy – Elevation Pictures
Charlotte screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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