Part of LSFF 2020 – U Ok Hun?
Director Tomek Popakul brings the dark rainy underground to life in this distinctively sketchy and disjointed animated tale. Set in the anonymous reaches of the Eastern Bloc, the film is captivating from its inception as it introduces a runaway girl, appropriately named Young, hitching a ride with a stoner criminal, Skinny. Straight off, a sense of menace and uneasiness is established through the unconventional plot – Young’s motives for being on the run are alluded to but never stated – but also through the chaotic aesthetics of the piece. The characters’ stick-bodies have many points and angles; their limbs dangle and twitch; their asterisk eyes dart about; their bloody knuckles protrude alarmingly; washed-out psychedelic clothing fades against their pale skin. To call it simply trippy would be to severely undersell its unique style.
Showcased as part of LSFF’s U Ok Hun? event, which broadly explored the crossover of various subcultures and everyday life, love and loneliness, the short stood out among strong contenders due to the bizarre turns the plot takes throughout. The animation itself acts as a sort of cheat code to really bring the experimentation and psychedelia of the subject to the fore. One has to admire Popakul’s enticing design, which despite the greyness of the palette on occasion, finds beauty in the degeneracy, evident for example with the beautiful technicolour raindrops.
The two characters, intriguing enigmas in their own ways, form an unspoken bond as they experiment with drugs and being ‘on the road’ in a hippie campervan. Young even cuts and dyes her hair into an edgy shaved bob; signifying her full transition to Skinny’s transient lifestyle. Their trip, in all senses, culminates in crossing a scary border to attend a psychedelic music festival. Popakul’s creation captures the mutual mania and euphoria of an intense trip astoundingly well; the shaky nervousness, the blurred lines between reality and fabrication of the mind, the magical connection one finds with strangers and the incessant thump thump thump of a droning bassline behind everything. The sound, the colours, the confusion comes out in a tribute to drug use with all the baggage which this implies, something that words could not truly do justice to.
The dark side of acid liberation is not just ventured into but forms the basis of the plot’s turning point, as Young realises her folly and that suddenly, hopelessly, she is in too deep with someone who is dangerous and prone to violence. In nurturing this development through Young’s naïve eyes, the film creates an achingly haunting atmosphere for the viewer where discomfort is encouraged; the end, far from cathartic, secures a dark cycle of drifting and escapism. Both the bright and the bleak of drug subcultures are captured by this smart and disorientating short; ultimately the dark underbelly of a hedonistic lifestyle casts a shadow over any fleeting rays of light.