A Year in Shorts Day 125: "Anna & Bella"

While I’ve seen every film we’ll be covering in our Year in Shorts ahead of time, I do like to try and revisit each before writing about them if I can. I’m not always able to pull this off, but I’ve found it can be very helpful. Sometimes I’ll find that a short that I loved upon a first watch doesn’t hold up quite as well after a second viewing. That’s always unfortunate, but it keeps me honest! But far more exciting is when a short I didn’t think much of the first time around turns out to be more enjoyable than I remembered. Today’s short, Anna & Bella, happens to be one of those films.

(via TV Tropes)

Børge Ring's Anna & Bella is a Dutch short from the far flung year of 1984. I'm pretty sure this is the first Dutch film we've covered, so that's pretty nice. It tells the story of two sisters (Anna and Bella, naturally), who are looking back over their lives together as they leaf through a photo album. It all starts out as a cute walk down memory lane, but as the years go by their memories and relationship grow more complicated. It's all told through (mostly) wordless storytelling, allowing for the strange and arresting visuals to explore their characters. It's not the deepest of shorts, but there's a lot to like here.

As to why I didn't like it at first, who knows? I think part of it may have been the animation; its scratchy aesthetic gives off strong "70s Disney" vibes, which is a little off putting for me. But watching it again made me realize how much it just works here. The character designs are stylized and expressive, the use of blank space is both creative and evocative, and there are some scenes that are just plain gorgeous to look at. Ring has a great handle over animation's limitless potential, forsaking realism for a more emotive type of storytelling. It's really something to see, especially in today's film industry where it seems like everything has to be as realistic as possible. I suppose it took me a second try to appreciate all the subtle, lovely things this short does.

Anna & Bella might not be a great short (and I don't think it deserved the Oscar over The Big Snit), but it is a good one, and I'm glad I got to watch it again. While its title characters might not go down in history as cinema's greatest sisters, they're still a pretty great couple of old gals. Plus we got to watch a Dutch film, so that's another European country The Great Oscar Baiter can check off the list.

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