A Year in Shorts Day 126: "O místo na slunci"
As we enter the fifth month of our Year in Shorts, I’ve been able to get a pretty good handle on the type of shorts I enjoy writing about and the ones I don’t. I love to write about cartoons featuring classic characters like Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck or the Looney Tunes, as evidenced by the absurdly long posts I’ve written about them. I don’t particularly like covering World War II propaganda or very serious documentary shorts, as evidenced by the absurdly short posts I’ve written about them. But few kinds of shorts make me feel quite as conflicted as the very obscure ones. On the one hand, I love to write about them, as it allows me to introduce them to a wider audience, and there’s less risk of me repeating something someone else has said. But with that comes a small amount of pressure, realizing that, seeing as how there’s very little criticism written about these shorts in general, I should try and think of something smart to say. It’s a mixed bag to be sure, but ultimately I think I enjoy the challenge more than I don’t, especially if the short I’m covering is as good as Frantisek Vystrcil’s O místo na slunci.
O místo na slunci (translated into English as A Place in the Sun) comes to us from the year 1959 and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first Czech (technically Czechoslovakian) film we've covered on The Great Oscar Baiter. Just another country to check off the list of European nations whose films we've examined. It is also one of the most obscure shorts we've looked at- as of this writing, it only has 70 user ratings on IMDb and 65 on Letterboxd. And while neither of those should be considered any real metric for how many people have seen this, it's still an indicator for how unknown it is. Which is a shame, as I think Frantisek Vystrcil has created a short that's really quite special!
While the story for O místo na slunci is undoubtedly very simple, and certainly not a unique one for animated shorts, it's the execution that really makes it shine. Admittedly, I have something of a soft spot for simplistic designs like this short has. By now I've made my love of Don Hertzfeldt no secret, and I think at least part of that stems from my own adolescence, in which I spent many hours writing and drawing a series of epic graphic novels about the epic adventures of an absurdly large cast of stick people. And while those books will almost certainly never see the light of day (really, the mythos just got far too complicated, even I can barely keep track of it), I still have a lot of warm memories of them, and they certainly taught me a lot about art and storytelling. Sometimes it's the simple things which can express the most complex ideas.
And I think Vystrcil understands that, using very little lines to tell a funny and fast-paced story about the need for cooperation in the face of mutually assured destruction (or, in this case, discomfort). While O místo na slunci is not a blatantly political film (at least as far as I know; maybe that bit at the end has a very clear moral), it's not exactly hard to find the message here. It may be a little simplistic, but it is a cartoon, and a pretty kid friendly one at that. I think we can give it a little leeway in not examining these issues with perfect complexity.
Besides, this short's first goal is to entertain, and in that regard it passes with flying colors. Maybe I'm just easily amused, but I'm a sucker for shorts like these, and pretty much every gag in the film works for me. I love seeing characters interact with their environments in impossible ways, the abstract concepts of sunshine and water given physical shape with the help of some simple line work. Vystrcil milks all the comic mileage he can out of his premise, and the short never gets stale. The whole thing is paced perfectly, with Vystrcil displaying a keen understanding of the need for good story development in a short like this. Episodic vignettes are fine, but if you want something special, it's better to escalate. And the strange, chipper music is really just the perfect cherry on top of this sundae.
Or maybe there's just something weirdly nostalgic about this short for me. Which isn't to say I grew up with this film; far from it, I didn't see it until I was an adult. But there's something about O místo na slunci which connects to me in a way many shorts I grew up on don't. Maybe it's the stick figure connection. Or it could be the way the white outlines of the drawings look against the green background, as if you're watching drawings on a chalkboard come to life. I don't know really. But I can't deny that O místo na slunci hits some primal part of my brain that can't help but be absolutely charmed by it.
O místo na slunci is not a short with a particularly long legacy. It didn't win the Oscar, losing out to Gene Deitch's Munro (which, to be fair, is a brilliant film totally deserving of the award). Its director didn't have a particularly long career in animation. Hell, the film doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. And I suppose in a way that makes sense. How many Czechoslovakian animated shorts from the 1950s can any of us name, after all? There are thousands upon thousands of films in the world from every country you can think of. It's only natural that some would fall through the cracks.
(via TV Tropes)
Still, it makes me a little sad in this case. A short this fun and creative deserves to be celebrated, and remembered as more than a footnote in Oscar history. And it certainly deserves a wider audience than it currently has. And while admittedly The Great Oscar Baiter is not exactly a blog with the power to do much about that, I am proud to say that I still have a devoted reader base. So maybe I can't make everyone in the world watch this short. But I've definitely introduced it to a few people. And who knows where it can go from there?
After all, doesn't a short like this deserve a place in the sun?
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