Director Anca Damian’s “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” (“L’Extraordinaire voyage de Marona”), is an easy pick for animal lovers although the first scene is traumatically sad. If you’ve ever had to pick up an animal, dead, from traffic, you’ll now what I mean.”Marona’s Fantastic Tale” wont special Jury Mention at the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival.
With her outline defined by white chalk-liked marks around the space that would have been her body with a few details filled in, we first meet Marona (voiced by Lizzy Brochere) at point zero. She is lying on the street, with colorful cars, abstractly portrayed running on either side as a human cries in despair, and lies down beside her. The little dog with a broad white stripe down her nose that frames a black heart-shaped nose rewinds the movie of her life remembers how she came to be there and how she came to learn, “Life has taught me that happiness is just a break from pain.” The dog will have many names, starting out as “Nine,” the ninth in a litter from a mixed breed mother and a purebred and racist larger guard dog, Dogo Argentino.
The owner of the Dogo accepts the puppy only to quickly dispose of her, leaving her to defend for herself. A man befriends her only to quickly sell her as a Bichon Frise (clearly drawn as nothing like that breed) to a man who is a street entertainer and acrobat, Malone (Bruno Salomone) and eventually uses the dog he names Ana in his act. He is her first love and she “falls in love with his scent,” melting into waves of black and white. When opportunity knocks, it forces the man to make a choice between Ana and success in a large circus that refuses to take Ana. Ana leaves, sacrificing for the love of her owner.
The next man Istvan who takes her is slowly worn down by first his elderly mother who is at times abusive and repentant toward the dog now called Sarah. Sarah is badly wounded by the mother who is institutionalized. The man takes Sarah to live with his wife, who pretends to like the dog, but Sarah knows better. Eventually Sarah is left out on the street and has to contend with the terror of the dog catchers. Pay attention to the wife’s image in the mirrors.
A young girl, Solange (Shyrelle Mai Yvart), takes her in and she lives in an apartment with Solange, the grumpy grandfather and the red-haired and capable mother. But Solange grows from a loving girl into a bored and petulant teenager.
While the dog who becomes Marona remains essentially the same–a black and white small spaniel (although the head to body ratio changes as Marona matures), the people who populate her life morph into different shapes, with fluid changes in form under the hands of Belgian artist Brecht Evens. Think talented child artist with one flat medium thick brush using gouache or poster paints. Gina Thorstensen and Sarah Mazzetti’s bright sets take no pains to hide the brush or pen marks. The people aren’t always portrayed with full bodies or heads and the 3D only enhances this predominately 2D animated feature.
This emotional rewinding of a young pup’s journey on the day of her death, from Nine to Ana to Sarah to Marona proves the ability of animation to move and even to wound one’s heart. Realism or 3D isn’t necessary to convey the tragedy of a dog’s love and the abstraction allows for more expressiveness, particularly in terms of showing separation anxiety. Along the way to her point zero, this little dog comments on people and their foibles compared to a dog’s life. Marona reflects at what love means at every age and in every situation. There’s a poignant feeling that while dogs know how to love, people do not.
In French with English subtitles. “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” will have a limited release in 2020 but screens today, 19 October 2019, at 1:30 p.m. as part of Animation Is Film in Hollywood at the TCL Chinese Theatre (6801 Hollywood Blvd.) this weekend.