Animated Short of the Week – The Old Lady and the Pigeons
The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998)
Dir. Sylvain Chomet
It’s no secret here on Febriblog that I am about as big a fan of The Triplets of Belleville as you’re going to find. Upon its release, if you’d asked me, I would’ve probably told you that Sylvain Chomet had saved animated cinema, and that I’d just seen one of my favorite films of all time. Here we are six years later, and that sentiment has surprisingly only grown upon countless viewings of the film (trust me, this is a very rare occurrence indeed… I don’t write about the ones that haven’t aged well, see…). Something about the wordless grunts and whistles (and frogs being blown to bits and swiftly sliced by a running train) mixed with Tati-style pathos just melts my heart, and certainly could fill a page with the wondrous little details that enrich each viewing. Sure, its social commentary is broad and not particularly revelatory, and indeed owes its existence to Jacques Tati, but I still believe that Mr. Chomet truly did find a unique avenue for storytelling. And boy, does he and his crew have balls for expecting audiences to sit through a 75-minute film almost entirely devoid of any resembling dialogue. That’s a beautiful thing.
But we’re not here to talk about that film, are we? I really just needed an avenue of my own to go ga-ga over it… I bring your attention now to The Old Lady and the Pigeons, the short film Chomet finished in 1998 that serves as the creative precursor to Triplets. This film certainly resembles the later film in many ways, in retrospect acting as a testing ground for his feature ambitions (see: the fat Americans being the only ones given dialogue, the plump dog with shaky legs, and humans’ innate and bizarre link to animals). However, what starts out as a light and slightly precocious little short film turns to the macabre and creepy pretty quickly, thus adding a much greater depth to the piece than first meets the eye. Much like in Triplets, Chomet’s casual offing of the animals he’s gone to great lengths making cute proves to be just as jarring (if not more so), eliciting the same reaction of shocked laughter. Chomet seems to delight in that combination of shock, nervous laughter, and eventual sorrow. It really does prove a fine gag.
The Old Lady and the Pigeons never rises to any of the heights of Triplets, nor is it anywhere near as refined, but Chomet certainly defined his style as early-on as any animator I can think of. His animation style is gorgeous in its detail, and his storytelling maintains a momentum of unpredictability throughout. While we wait for his next film nearing completion (based on an unfinished Tati script no less… To say I’m giddy is a gross understatement), enjoy this early short from the man who in my world saved animation for all others to follow suit.