Voice Cast: Signe Baumane.
Writer/Director: Signe Baumane.
Latvian-born, US-based filmmaker Signe Baumane draws upon a rich history of European animation to propel Rocks in My Pockets, her charming, incisive and very contemporary study of generational depression and suicidal tendencies.
The dreamlike work recounts the struggle with mental illness experienced by the women of Baumane’s family. Raising questions of how much family genetics determine who we are and if it is possible to outsmart one’s own DNA, this landmark film engages with wit and empathy via visual metaphors, surreal images and a twisted sense of humour; it is an animated odyssey encompassing art, matriarchal angst, strange folkloric stories, Latvian nature, history, the natural world and the artist’s own sense of longing.
Utilising the structural and symbolic framework of a century of conflict in the Baltic region, Baumane undertakes the daunting artistic and intellectual task of presenting the crippling impact that the darkest of mindsets had upon her grandmother Anna, her cousins and ultimately, herself. Stop-motion techniques, papier mache landscapes, simple colour-pencil flourishes and traditional 2D cell animation combine to profound and blackly comic affect to convey themes which explore rarely spoken-of elements such as infanticide, the mechanics of hanging oneself and patriarchal tyranny.
Baumane served as assistant to the great animator Bill Plympton, the Oscar-nominated creator of such memorable works as Guard Dog (2004), Your Face (1987) and Idiots and Angels (2008). His influence is clear, predominantly in surreal sequences that defy real world physical properties. Other inspirations include the metaphorical embracing of the animal kingdom as used by Russian visionary Yuriy Norshteyn (The Fox and The Hare, 1973; Hedgehog in the Fog, 1975); the surreal oeuvre of Czech auteur Jan Svankmajer (Alice, 1988; Faust, 1994; Little Otik, 2000); and, Persepolis (2007), the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s female-centric graphic novel by director Vincent Paronnaud.
Yet Baumane has also crafted a unique and vivid animation landscape of her own. From her grandmother’s attempts at suicide on riverbank in a 1920’s Latvian forest to the claustrophobic shadows of modern New York City where the director mulls over self-harm, Rocks in My Pocket proves an insightful, cathartic experience in bonding for Baumane and her audience. Like all great art, her animation is borne of a need for truth and demands, and rewards, one’s intellectual and emotional engagement.