Skhizein (2008)

Director/Screenwriter/Animator: Jérémy Clapin

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

To be “beside oneself” is a turn of phrase we’ve all heard or used at one time or another. It usually refers to someone experiencing something very emotionally charged. Of course, the part of that phrase that most people don’t think much about is that the emotion literally drives one out of one’s body. If you’ve ever witnessed a car wreck or been threatened with serious physical harm, as I have, you’ll be able to testify that it is possible for your mind to disconnect and float away from your body.

French animator Jérémy Clapin took his experience of being in an earthquake and some odd perspectives in some drawings he was rendering and conceived a story of a man whose encounter with a 150-ton meteorite crashing toward him sends him exactly 91 centimeters beside himself. “Skhizein” is from the Greek for “split” and is the root for the word “schizophrenia.” Whether you think Clapin’s protagonist Henri (Julien Boisselier) has literally been cleaved from his body by a quasi-supernatural event or has had a mental health crisis may depend on whether or not you are a fan of The Twilight Zone.

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The muted animation, moody music, and flat affect of Henri make Skhizein a disturbing chamber piece that is open to various interpretations, and Clapin is more than happy to confuse the issue. The film starts with Henri visiting a psychiatrist. Although his body is hovering in the air, he is at exactly the height he would be if he were laying on the examination couch. The nonchalance of the psychiatrist indicates that he sees Henri’s body right where it should be. The dissonance between what we see and must imagine, what we believe could have happened, and the boundary-free world of animation create tension in the viewer. Like a proper audience, we want to believe the person Clapin has set us up to identify with, and Clapin’s meticulous creation of Henri’s altered world—one in which he is able to calculate and diagram in chalk precisely where he must put his hand to flush the toilet or pick up the phone—lends logic and veracity to Henri’s predicament despite its patent absurdity.

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When Henri realizes that the psychiatrist is of no use to him, he takes matters into his own hands. When his television goes snowy with static as it did when the meteorite “struck” him, he looks out the window and spies it again. His pursuit of it—sitting outside his car as he races haphazardly through the streets—is an elegantly crafted chase sequence. At land’s end, we see the outline of Mont St. Michel in the distance—a mountainous island periodically cleaved from France when the tide washes over a land bridge and the only part of France that has never been conquered by invading armies. This landscape detail cannot be a coincidence. Henri plants himself on the sandy beach, draws a quick calculation of where he must be for the meteorite to strike him again, and holds his arms wide.

Did it work? Clapin says, “Henri is alright now, he doesn’t need to get organized anymore.”

The animation, a combination of traditional drawings by Clapin and models rendered by Jean-François Sarazin, Loli Irala, and Raphael Bot-Gartner, is both rather quirky and quite poignant, particularly at the end. The sound design by Marc Piera is almost hyperrealistic; I recommend viewing this short film with a good pair of headphones for maximum effect. And here now is Skhizein. l

  • Daniel spoke:
    5th/11/2009 to 12:30 pm

    How bizarre – I know I saw this short and enjoyed its surrealism, but could not place it in my memory. I’m fairly sure it played as an “extra” after the theatrical screenings of the 2009 Oscar Animated Short program. I believe it received an honorable mention, but not a nomination. Anyway, I had forgotten about it until now.
    It really is a trip, and raises the bar for ambitious animation styles.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    5th/11/2009 to 1:19 pm

    This was part of the Animation Nation shorts of CIFF. I really enjoyed it. Since I didn’t review the entire shorts program this year, I made it a promise to myself to review this one, the best of the lot.

  • kelsy spoke:
    5th/11/2009 to 5:47 pm

    I just loved this short when I saw it. The mood is a great blend of surreal and morose.

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