IFFR 2011: MASKA review

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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IFFR 2011: MASKA review

It is no secret that over here at ScreenAnarchy we are big fans of Stephen and Timothy Quay, also known as the Quay Brothers. They make films which consist either wholly or partly of inventive, artful stop-motion animation, and which portray dark atmospheric tales.

Their work is often compared to that of Jan Svankmajer and Terry Gilliam, and indeed all four can be considered fans of each other.
And this year, the International Film Festival Rotterdam showed their newest short "Maska", a rare chance to seeing it on a big screen.

We covered "Maska" already on this site and for good reason: it's based on a story written by Stanislaw Lem of "Solaris" fame.
With this much talent involved and lasting only 24 minutes, can "Maska" fulfill its promise? Read on!

The Story:

Scientists create a beautiful woman. Given the name "Countess Duenna", she is sent to the King's court and once there, a man falls in love with her. But her delight turns to horror when she discovers what she really is and to what purpose she has been created. This knowledge brings her to a difficult decision...

The Short:

Adapted from a novel by Stanislaw Lem or not, with the slow brooding style used by the Brothers Quay there is not a lot of story you can put in only twenty four minutes. People expecting an earth-shattering tale of psychological insight may therefore feel a bit disappointed in the simple plot.

However, literal storytelling is not what is being aimed at here. Rather, "Maska" is a mood piece. It is no coincidence that the creature known as Duenna is beautiful-looking, both as a woman and as a "terminator", while the true humans all look decayed and burnt. Dust, smoke and subdued colors give the impression of faded grandeur in this kingdom, most notably in the corrupted palaces of its leaders.

But In the hands of the Brothers Quay, even the corruption looks beautiful though. Their stop-motion animation may in itself look artificial and jittery, their visual compositions are nothing short of gorgeous. Combined with the bombastic orchestral score by Krzysztof Penderecki and some inventive lighting and editing, "Maska" is a treat for the senses.


I had read a lot about the Brothers Quay but had only caught occasional glimpses of their work. After having seen "Maska" I rushed to the store to buy collections of their work on DVD.

Short but awesome, "Maska" is highly recommended.
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