Genius Loci (2021)
Director: Adrien Merigeau
Screenwriters: Adrien Merigeau, Nicolas Pleskof
Starring: Nadia Moussa, Georgia Cusack, Jina Djemba
French animation Genius Loci is unlike anything you’ll see in mainstream western animation. Conducted by screenwriter-director Adrien Merigeau and realised visually by Belgian artistic director Brecht Evens, this Animated Short nominee at the 2021 Oscars is abstract and ever-evolving, its protagonist shapeshifting with her environment and the environment in turn swallowing her whole.
It’s a film that instantly grabs your attention, making it obvious very early on that this isn’t an animated film made for children, but a deep artistic expression of themes and issues better understood in adulthood. We see Reine (Nadia Moussa) depart her bedroom into a world of anxieties and threats, questions of both morality and mortality posed to her in an ever-changing cycle of nightly encounters. She cowers from responsibility, gets lost beneath the sounds of her own consternation, and through the combination of profound imagery and phenomenal sound design, we are thrown in with her.
Anyone who has ever felt overwhelming anxiety, or the innate pressure of every day life to a degree that seems unbearable, is likely to feel a strong connection to Merigeau’s work. Moments of dialogue drown into the background as thoughts and environmental factors swell in Reine’s head, the barking of a dog drowning the picture in jagged, vicious, dark shapes. We are with Reine for what is barely a portion of her evening, yet the constructs of Merigeau and Evens are tremendously impactful, highlighting the torrential downpouring of mental hurdles any unwell individual must overcome to fulfil their social, familial or wider obligations.
Artistic Director Brecht Evens is a well known artist whose work has been celebrated across comic books and fashion, and in Genius Loci it is his impact that is the most undeniable, the most spectacular.
Here, Evens contorts images, he twists already abstract scenes into altogether more imposing and abnormal ones. Director Adrien Merigeau has spoken of how the movement of things, people and environments provided him with much of the inspiration for Genius Loci, and Evens’ use of shapes and contrasts in colours make for such a wonderful machination through which this can be realised. At times flowing like a river, and at others as jarring as a brick falling on your foot, Evens and Merigeau construct a quite remarkable journey.
Genius Loci is wholly unique, its explorations of anxieties therefore feeling more personal, its abstract design helping you to place your own experiences into its assembly and take from it what you will. As a short film, and as an animated film, Genius Loci is a wondrous example of both creative expression and cinema’s remarkable ability to connect on a deep level. A film like no other.