A cow tries to convince herself she’s really happy. But one evening, just before Christmas, she is overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness – a strange, new experience. The crisis makes her decide to go traveling to find her true self. Grippingly existential – but also irresistibly humorous.
She has everything her heart desires. She’s popular, loves shopping, comes from a loving family. She plays volleyball and afterward has a smoke with girlfriends. Sports club, barbecue, hairdresser: her life is perfect. There’s only one thing that makes her stand out: she is a cow. A real, black-and-white cow in the human world. No one in the film thinks it’s strange. But, as she describes in a voiceover, she feels an existential void. And so she moves into the desert, her loneliness emphasized by the widescreen format, in order to withstand such temptations as TV and consumer goods and to pose serious questions about the meaning of life to herself (and us).
ANIMAL POLÍTICO is an absurdist-spiritual feature debut by Brazilian director Tião then only gets weirder, with headless men, an intermezzo about a naked shipwrecked man, a stop-motion robot, the monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and a crucial role for a handbook of technical standards.
ANIMAL POLÍTICO screens again at the 2016 International Film Festival Rotterdam on Saturday, February 6. We spoke with the film’s Director Tião on site in Rotterdam about the film’s protagonist, poster, and much more.
What was the very first aspect of ANIMAL POLÍTICO that occurred to you in what would ultimately become the completed film? Was it a certain character, setting, theme…?
The very first aspect was the main idea of a cow as a platform to represent ourselves. To imagine her in common day to day situations. As soon as I started writing it, I began to think about the Little Caucasian Girl.
Why choose a cow of all animals to represent the film’s protagonist?
The cow has a natural lost look and also a passive behavior that matched exactly with the kind of feeling I wanted to speak about. For many scenes the cow just arrived at the set ready to shoot and only by placing her at her mark would create the effect I wanted.
I really love the poster to the film, cross-sectioned with the cow in the middle. In a way it reminds me of what you see at a Butcher shop; the diagram that represents the different cuts from a cow, only this one features a cross section of modern life (to me, at least). Can you describe the thought process behind the poster? Who designed it? How much input did you have?
The Designer of the poster is my friend Raul Luna, who used to be part of our production company before focusing in design. He used Drawings of another dear friend, Clara Moreira. We spoke about the film and realized it had a certain strength on the collection of characters and elements that appear in the cow’s journey. So we wanted to create something that would talk honestly about the film, but also communicate lightness to direct it to a more fun, adventure side. We wanted to create a good feeling for someone who will watch the film yet and also something interesting to look after the experience of viewing it.
Are you willing to discuss some of the thematic influences behind the film? By this, I don’t necessarily mean specific films or authors, etc. but rather anything that influenced the creation, aesthetic, themes of the film? It could be a dream you had, for example; or a specific idea?
We took a long time to finish the film and its structure would allow me to be always thinking on new ideas in order to keep the movie actual for me. On this journey, I got in touch (just like the cow) with many authors and thoughts that were important for the Idea of the film. From Aristotle to Sartre, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Roberto Bolaño, along with Robert Crumb, Brazilian actress and filmmaker Helena Ignez, who appeared in brilliant films of Rogério Sganzerla, my friends and filmmakers Melissa Dullius and Gustavo Jahn, who were part of Animal Político’s crew. The work of them all inspired me a lot.
What was your approach to the film’s visual look? How did your original meetings with its DP go? How did the original approach evolve from pre-post production (if it did)?
From the beginning we noticed that for the sequences in the city, the more simple we approached, the better it would do for the cow’s effect. It is more absurd when it was simple and not to have other elements that would distract from the cow. So we choose to do almost no camera movements to highlight when we do, like the Christmas sequence. We also choose to show different parts of the film using different cameras to separate it and to make the audience feel they are clearly in another time or space. So our main format is the digital, we used VHS for the scenes in the past and 16mm to the girl in the island. We followed that ideas until the post-production, trying to serve to the cow’s strangeness and not compete with it.
What was the most challenging aspect of completing the film? Was there ever an aspect you had anticipated as being challenging but turned out to not be?
It was always very difficult. To used a cow from the beginning, it changes how we were used to film, we had to learn its dynamics like not shooting for more than 2 or 3 days in a row, because she gets tired. I had to be very open to what the cow gives us. Sometimes it would take long hours waiting to something good appears like a jewel in the dust, sometimes she would do it at the first take and it was magic. At a point, I started wondering if she had any conscience of the filming. Also, the structure of Animal Político has a lot of elements, locations. When we began, I didn’t know it would be incredibly difficult like that. I found myself on the ocean, in the midway between a boat and the beach, then to swim to the shore since it was what I had to do. Just keep working and trying to make the best of it. After 6 years on the making, I think that feeling was good for the film, it created a kind of awareness that made me wanted to push things over the limits and make a better work.
Where does the film go next after IFFR?
The film is just finished now, it’s going to be shown in São Paulo and then yet to decide what are the next international festivals.