The gentle lap of waves opens La salvación de la Gacela Imperial, set to continue through to its finish. Froth and foam fill the screen. The harbour bell tolls from behind. In the first of many influences to come, we can detect the ghost of Stan Brakhage. The roll of waves is distorted almost to the point of non-being; a sheet of watery static. The film will begin, but first it must be conjured and brought forth from the fog of abstraction.
We wash ashore, where Aarturi Toro is being charged by Ganesha with a holy mission. The nature of this mission is for viewers to discover themselves. Suffice to say Toro is soon on an overseas voyage, telescope in hand. It's simple, story-book fare, which allows the film's technical aspects to take the spotlight.
We travel through as many animation techniques as distant lands. Live action footage, stills, cut-outs, and back projection all combine into a stylish whole. But the film is never flashy — instead, it's fluid and clear. Scenes are often presented in profile, recalling Walerian Borowczyk, or Terry Gilliam in his work for Monty Python. And like those two forebears, it has a dark, wry, unusual sense of humour. Charm and menace are holding hands here.
It also dips into the grotesque, using close-ups of disembodied hands, eyes and tongues; even, at one point, reanimating a dead fish. Jan Svankmejer is a clear and welcome source of inspiration for these scenes, which are well interwoven with the film's more conventionally beautiful images.
One such image is an underwater jaunt on the back of a friendly axolotl. The screen is awash with deep black silhouettes and vibrant seascapes. The sound in the scene is outstanding, too, the axolotl's sweet cry like an old friend's greeting. The animals, elements, and the natural world appear as they would on the walls of a child's room. They are full of life and full of wonder — but ready to turn dangerous as soon as the nightlight's off.
Brakhage, Gilliam, Boro and Svankmajer have cropped up so far. But namedropping these influences does a disservice to what is an original and unique film. There are recognisable aesthetic qualities to La salvación..., but it has an eerie disjuncture and sense of humour all of its own. A journey worth taking.
A trailer for La salvación de la Gacela Imperial can be found here.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe