TIFF Review: 'Bydlo'

(Canada, 9 min.)
Dir. Patrick Bouchard

Photo taken from the production. Courtesy of the NFB
Bydlo. The word means “cattle” in Polish. In Poland and in other parts of Europe the bydlo occasionally serves as a term to belittle the working class. Bydlo is also the name of the fourth movement of Pictures at an Exhibition, the suite by composer Modest Mussorgsky. Bydlo, the film, takes all three of these definitions and combines them into an evocative animated film about the relationship between man and beast, and the beasts of burden that comes with working with the land. This film, directed by Patrick Bouchard and produced by Julie Roy of the National Film Board of Canada, screens this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Bouchard uses the Mussorgsky suite as inspiration for a visually stunning claymation film. As the orchestra plays Pictures at an Exhibition on the soundtrack, the camera observes a barren landscape constructed from Plastiline clay. The land then morphs into a sturdy ox, which rises from the ground. Bound by shackles, the ox lumbers along and struggles to traverse the muddy ground from which it came. A mass of small figures fights to overpower the beast. As the music crescendos, the men subdue the beast, and the figures melt into a giant orgy of feeding before they and the beast are returned to the earth.

Both beautiful and horrifying, Bydlo is a film more malleable than the clay that was used to make it. The earthy tones of the modelling clay enhance this strange story: both the visuals and themes are cyclical as everything in the film is made from the earth, and eventually decomposes back into it. (The animation of the figures drying into dust is especially striking.) Bouchard’s figures have a unique texture and tactility, too, as the fingerprints on the figurines bear the marks of labour as much as the ox and the humans do. It's an earthly symphony of animation.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★) 

Bydlo plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 1, and screens Friday, Sept. 7 at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 at 7:15 pm and Saturday, Sept. 8 at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 at 1:15 pm.

Also reviewed from the Short Cuts Canada Programme are Frost, Dear Scavengers, Asian Gangs, and Let the Daylight into the Swamp.

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The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6-16.