Stop-motion lemurs in dirigibles: a film about people sticking together when life gets rough.
Two Balloons, written and directed by Mark Smith, tells the tale of two lemurs who fall in love mid-air. A universal boy-meets-girl story told with splendid grandeur.
The protagonists are notably lemurs, Bernard and Elba. These are animals that haven’t necessarily been characteristically branded in cinema: they aren’t humorous clumsy elephants (Dumbo), or cute little puppies (Clifford). Lemurs haven’t been explored on such a level and their animalistic personality hasn’t yet been imprinted in moving pictures. The director, then, achieves a balanced portrayal of their feral beauty and their human attributes, with carefully planned sequences such as the one where Bernard feeds and interacts with his bird friend. While humanizing Bernard, it still credits him with a dreamlike lyrical quality.
Due to the features of the characters, their every subtle movement was essential in characterising them, from the way Elba puts on her goggles, to the way that Bernard lets his tail rest on his shoulder, and it was immaculately achieved. Their interactions personify them, inducing charisma from the audience, showing that at the bottom of this fable, is a simple quest for true love.
The fairy-tale like quality of the characters is accompanied by a whimsical score, from American composer Peter Broderick. The lack of dialogue throughout the film highlights the rich yet smooth waltz-time piece that narrates it, which holds the emotional weight that the characters themselves are experiencing, mirroring what the audience is feeling.
Even with there not being a single spoken word in it, the story is beautifully told through an impeccable set design, curated by Art Director Kathleen Chamberlin. There is an incredible level of attention that was paid to perfecting details: from the 1950s-styled props, navigation maps and dirigibles, to the peculiar jars of food, there is always something new you will notice watching it the second time around.
Being such prominent features, the original score and production design set the tone of the film, which can be described as a combination of Aardman and Wes Anderson. The film shows us the grandeur of its setting without making it obvious and over dramatized. The first time we fully realise that the story is taking place in mid-air is when Bernard plays with his bird friend. The audience focuses on the bird’s flight and the camera discreetly moves to reveal the splendour of his dirigible, hitting us with a stunning visual. Another scene worth noting is when both characters are falling, almost in slow motion, against an exquisite painting-like background.
The director has stated that he wanted the audience to be transported to a dreamlike place of imagination and intuition, and through the touching visuals and musical elements he was successful in doing so. Above all, the film offers a refreshing take on romance, refraining itself from any negativity and constantly charming the viewer, while still gripping your attention throughout.
The film managed to achieve all this not despite the fact that it was a stop-motion, but because of it. The form supports the story and enhances the life-like qualities of the characters, therefore being able to connect with the audience on a deeper level.
Two Balloons will be screened at Aesthetica Short Film Festival. Refer to timetables.
For more information on Two Balloons, visit the short film’s website.
To watch more of Mark Smith’s work, visit his Vimeo page.