Two of my favourite things, Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead, have often proven themselves to be great tastes that go well together (check out those music videos!). With Anima, this relationship has deepened into a collaborative project between PTA and Thom Yorke, resulting in a short film (or ‘one reeler’ as PTA is calling it) based around new music by Yorke.
The result of this is an entrancing fifteen minute burst of contemporary dance. The film’s loose narrative takes a passenger on the underground (Thom Yorke) on a journey of escape – one in which he is united with a partner (Dajana Roncione) while struggling to evade the monotonous conformity of those around him. Of course, being a piece of dance, it’s more experience than narrative, presenting the viewer with evocative imagery and spellbinding sequences. Partly due to my ignorance of the art form, and partly due to Damien Jalet’s compelling choreography, I was reminded of sequences in Wim Wenders’ Pina. My experience was similar, even when you’re not sure what’s going on, it is still emotionally resonant and carries power on a visceral level. To a great extent, the lasting appeal is in unpicking and analysing, but with all great metaphors the surface has to be compelling and impressive. This is certainly true of Anima, which is both instinctual and cerebral. However, theatrics isn’t the sole appeal, the aforementioned great choreography is served alongside arresting visuals and cinematic set-pieces – a highlight being a beautiful sequence on a grey square where shadows dance alongside people.
Of course, it would be remiss not to delve into the impressionistic narrative at the short’s heart. To me, the film seemed to serve as flight of fancy induced by societal monotony – a want to escape the crushing realities of modern existence (I was reminded of a description of In Rainbows – my favourite Radiohead album – by Thom Yorke, where he described the album as conveying the feeling of being stuck in a traffic jam and oppressed by the feeling you should be doing something else. To a great extent, I saw Anima as a true realisation of this idea, and a highly successful one). The film excellently conveys that feeling where the pedestrian nature of modernity, and all its conformity, gets to you and you dream of escape. In this dream, we get a sense of struggle and nightmare – often conveyed by jerky, uniform dancing crowds that to me symbolised the oppressive homogeneity we are so desperate to evade.
The imagery in the first half is very oppressive and industrial – dominated by harsh concrete shapes. In the latter movement we are treated to the beauty of Prague, a perfect backdrop to juxtapose claustrophobic modernity. Here is where we get romance also. Thom Yorke is paired with his real life partner, Dajana Roncione. The couple have a wonderful, and wordless, onscreen chemistry (not always true of real couples) and their meeting in Prague – after meeting eyes on the train to start – establishes a romantic and innocent core to the film. There is a sweet narrative of lovers drawn together, of people finding each other and existing in harmony (expressed through the kinetic metaphor of dance). This romance is also reminiscent of silent cinema, knowingly so, adding to the sense of dreamlike love. However, there is also a melancholic end (or is it sweet?) that establishes a cyclicality. The ending is excellent, allowing for pessimistic and optimistic interpretation. On one level, it shows escape as just a dream – all destinations are the same even when outward appearances differ; or, is it about the beauty of flights of fancy, how imagination can allow us to transcend and can beautify our surroundings – how finding each other saves us from succumbing to faceless homogeneity? Of course, it’s about all of this and so much more, and while it is certainly not for everyone – making it even more glorious that this is a Netflix release – I found it to be utterly compelling and very thought provoking. If you watched last year’s Suspiria remake (which Thom Yorke did the music for, a highlight of a film I did not care for) or Climax, and loved the dancing, this short film may appeal to you (especially if you don’t want a big dollop of extreme cinema with your contemporary dance). Even if this isn’t you (which is likely), it’s really worth watching and, at fifteen minutes, isn’t much of an investment.