Signe Baumane's autobiographical Rocks in My Pockets is perhaps unlike any mainstream animated feature ever theatrically released in North America. A Dadaist, surrealist fever dream, it layers image upon image in pursuit of a psychological catharsis for its director. The impression that we get is one of a visionary creator tortured by a long history of familial dysfunction that predated her conception and birth by decades. The mental illness of prior generations seeped down into Baumane's psyche to leave her battling depression, anxiety, and trauma for years.
On the surface, the images are warm and dynamic, and are occasionally given lift via the striking intersections of flat animated figures and shapes with sculpted plasticene settings. As Baumane relays the beleaguered history of her family, the human characters coalesce and deliquesce, and morph into and out of inanimate objects (both anthropomorphic and not) -- in addition, everything is so laden with Freudian metaphors and psychoanalytic connotations that you could go back and rewatch this opus many times without necessarily catching everything. It possesses enough intelligence, diabolical invention, and wit for two dozen movies. What it lacks is a hearty enough humor to fully offset the melancholia; it could have used the sort of amusement that was present in Adam Elliot's adult animated feature Mary and Max. There is drollness here, but it manifests in flashes of momentary wit, not belly laughs in the vein of Elliot. As the film ruminates on hopelessness and suicide, the impression that we get is of a young woman's protracted inner scream of despair, with Baumane whistling past the graveyard in a courageous attempt to mollify her demons and save herself from the pit of destruction. Whatever criticisms one might levy against the picture, it can't be faulted for a lack of gut-wrenching honesty, temerity, or introspective wisdom.
Baumane's narration does feel a bit canned and flat. Perhaps because English is her second language, she struggles somewhat at imbuing her line readings with the proper emotions. For that reason, the movie would probably play even more effectively in the directorís native language of Latvian. Either way, what does come across is a playful, piquant irony as Baumane recapitulates the weird, often morose twists and turns in the lives of her grandmother, cousins, and others. Appropriately enough, there are many touches of Grand Guignol: Even the title itself, Rocks in My Pockets, refers to a piece of warped advice Baumane's grandmother doled out about the most effective way to end one's life.
This would be an ideal companion piece to several equally outstanding movies made in the decade prior to this one -- especially Canadian director Paule Baillargeon's magnificent documentary Trente tableaux, which also has an introspective approach, a confessional voice, and a crazy-quilt style not unlike Baumane's. Putting oneself center stage and baring all remains an audacious act; doing so with boundless aesthetic ingenuity and without succumbing to narcissistic indulgence is even rarer. The highest compliment one can pay to Baumane is that, like Baillargeon, she took a massive leap of faith and landed on her feet.
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- Released: 2014
- Rating: NR
- Review: Signe Baumane's autobiographical Rocks in My Pockets is perhaps unlike any mainstream animated feature ever theatrically released in North America. A Dadaist, surrealist fever dream, it layers image upon image in pursuit of a psychological catharsis for it… (more)