Nicola Ryan reviews Affairs of the Art, the Academy Award nominated short drawn and directed by Joanna Quinn and written by Les Mills.
Cardiff Animation Festival was founded on a love of short films. This year’s festival showcased over 100 short films from all over the world, giving voice to emerging and veteran filmmakers. Falling into the latter category is Joanna Quinn, a seasoned animator who has brought her much-loved character Beryl back in her latest short film, Affairs of the Art. The story follows Beryl as she discusses her life and the obsessive nature she and her family have when it comes to certain hobbies, with fascinations ranging from art to pet taxidermy. With big heart and bravura, it’s no surprise that Affairs of the Art has taken the world by storm, winning not only a slew of awards (including the Audience Award at the Cardiff Animation Festival), but also receiving a BAFTA and Academy Award nomination.
Directed by Joanna Quinn and written by Les Mills, Affairs of the Art is the latest film to star Quinn’s signature character Beryl since 2006’s Dreams and Desires-Family Ties. The film only spans 16 minutes, but in this short amount of time we come to understand Beryl’s obsessive nature and that of her family, (especially in relation to her older sister, Beverly, whose early fascination with death grows into a successful pet taxidermy business). The film flits between Beryl in the present day and her childhood in the 1960s, giving the audience an insight into Beryl that we haven’t seen before. One particularly standout scene sees Beverly having a childhood dream of meeting Lenin in a bizarre sequence that brings us into the chaos of Beverly’s mindset.
Menna Trussler returns as the voice of Beryl and showcases her brilliant timing, bringing out Beryl’s nuances. The scenes in which Beryl grows increasingly frustrated are where Trussler really shines, her voice encapsulating restraint and regret. One of the piece’s funniest moments comes when Beryl is standing at the bus stop and reflects on where her life has led her and what she wants to be. The delivery of the lines here is not only pitch-perfect in timing but evocative in reaching those feelings of sincere dread and worry. A small supporting cast is featured, with Brendan Charleston taking on the voices of all the male characters in the film from Beryl’s ever-confused husband, Ifor, to her precision-obsessed son, Colin, right through to Lenin in the aforementioned dream sequence. Quinn proves herself multi-talented, providing the voice of Beverly, confidently moving through the nuances of both the childhood segments into scenes of life as an adult.
One of the most stunning segments of animation documents Beverly’s plastic surgery transformation following a career as a successful taxidermist in California. Not only is it a scene steeped in drama – the moment naturally contrasting the respective sisters’ lives – but it’s also beautifully rendered, the transformation portrayed in fluid and vivid detail. Of course, the whole short also benefits from its score which is composed by Benjamin Talbott. Talbott has a knack for creating piercing intensity, especially in the scenes involving Beverly and her various experiments. Due to the quick pace of the film, the score is – on the whole – understated and simple, but does exactly what its meant to in complimenting, rather than overpowering, the intricate visuals of the beautiful animation.
Affairs of the Art not only boasts a sharp script filled with a potent blend of humour and shock, it also offers authentic rumination on the nature and dynamics of family life. Viewing the short at CAF, it was impossible not to get swept up in the electric atmosphere induced at each individual viewing. Having now been able to watch the film a total of three times over the course of the weekend, it’s safe to say that this is a rich and triumphant piece of animation which deserves its accolades and only offers more and more on repeated viewings.
Affairs of the Art is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.