One Night In The City

Anne-Marie Marquess experiences a nightmare of puppet proportions at the Belfast Film Festival

Enter into a nightmarish world of grotesque puppets in grim surroundings for a series of twisted tales from the mind of Czech animator, Jan Balej.

One Night in the City is an atmospheric, Tim Burton-esque horror animation full of disturbing characters, freakish animals, peculiar humour and crazed people living on the fringes of society.

Set around a run-down apartment building, this is a dark animation, dimly lit by the atmospheric street lamps, winding cobbled streets and olde worldey feel Prague is renowned for. The film opens with spiders scuttling and a circus full of dead insects. A man with a mishapen head picks them up with pliers, making them perform feats. Not your normal neighbour.

Next we meet a red head who dresses her dog in a bear suit, but worse is yet to come for the pup, as he ends up in the flat of a pet cremator, who romances his owner. The unfortunate dog gets pruned for a photo, put in a coffin and nearly incinerated. But fortunately he lives to chase his tail. What a relief.

All the characters in Balej's city have features carved out of caricature, deranged looking expressions, wide eyes and faces far from symmetrical. There is no discernible speech - just grumbling, mumbling and grunts - so no need for subtitles. The expressions and actions of the characters tell the stories.

We meet a dodgy man dressed in a silk dressing gown, peacock on his head, entertaining two female twins in his apartment. A cocaine snorter who also snorts ants, a lady with flowers in her hair worshipping a donkey and a tree man who lives with a fish and changes with the seasons. 

A restaurant scene brings ghostly characters to life before returning them to the painting from where they came, frozen in time. When an old, accordion player makes the horrific and bizarre discovery of a discarded ear, we are intrigued. 

Chopping his own ear off and sewing on his new find, he becomes blessed with the genius painting ability of Vincent Van Gogh and so his starry night begins. No more busking for him and who would have thought that an old ear could be as valuable a find as a winning lottery ticket?

Throughout the film, two drunken mad men on a motorbike occasionally flit into view. They end up seeing what can only be described as a cross between Willow the Wisp and a weird parsnip like apparition, floating above their heads and granting their wishes.

They indulge themselves endlessly; alcohol, shots, cigarettes and food, then take a fairground trip in giant tea-cups through an establishment of ill-repute. At the end of their madcap trip they pick up a bottle of milk, knock it back and start the walk home.

The street lamp is switched off and One Night in the City ends. And what a bizarre night in the city it was. A glimpse into the lives of the strange and disturbed, the mad and the manic, the crazed and confused, the lost and the lonely.

With a 15 classfication, this isn't one for the kids, but for those teenagers with a penchant for squashing ants or spending time in graveyards, Balej's film could be just the thing.

One Night in the City is a patchwork quilt of effective puppetry and a nocturnal trip that will keep you awake with its disturbed imagination and rich animation.


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