Fantasia 2022 Review: MY GRANDFATHER'S DEMONS, Portugal's First Stop Motion Feature Is A Heartfelt Winner
It’s always exciting when a director breaks new ground, whether it is on an international level or even local. Nuno Beato’s My Grandfather’s Demons is Portugal’s first stop motion animated feature, which would be a feat to be proud of on its own, but the fact that it’s a beautifully created, empathetic, and emotionally rich story makes it an achievement of which he can truly be proud.
This is the story of Rosa, an urban workaday graphic designer who spends her waking hours putting together banal marketing images for products about which she doesn’t care. When the sudden death of her grandfather pulls her back to the country where she grew up, she conjures old memories with the help of the land and the demons her crank pot of a patriarch left behind.
Since she’s been gone, the town has been in steep decline, and the locals all blame it on a curse placed by her grandfather that dried up the river and left them living in a barren dusty wasteland. The few remaining residents subsist on what little they can farm, but prices are going up, and productivity is slight, so it’s only a matter of time before the entire village is completely dead.
Rosa’s initial plan is to tend to her grandfather’s affairs, get his land sold, and move back to the city, but a great mystery and visions of the way the land used to be spark a desire to rejuvenate the town. This means find a way to get that river flowing again – among many other associated projects – in order to bring hope back.
Beato’s film is an accomplished work both in terms of craft and storytelling. A mystery wrapped inside of a woman’s search for her own place in the world, My Grandfather’s Demons explores generational trauma, but with a relatively light touch that keeps it family appropriate. The choice of medium in this case works both as a technical showcase, but also in terms of the film’s thematic ideas and Rosa’s connection to the land.
My Grandfather’s Demons begins in a CG animated world, with Rosa’s experiences in the corporate sector portrayed as flat and lifeless as the animation itself. It’s clever, but there are no rough edges, no hills to climb – literal or figurative – and it lacks texture. When the film transitions to the country, so too transitions the animation to stop motion. This isn’t Nightmare Before Christmas, hyper-stylized imagery, it is rough, a clearly hand-molded creation designed to elicit the feeling that she is getting back to the land, back to the earth where she spent her childhood years.
The film is populated by hand-fashioned creations within the story as well. There is a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, from costumes on the locals, to cabins and mills built from scratch, to the grandfather’s own artwork, consisting mostly of clay dolls created for Rosa that represent important people in her life. These dolls guide her through the process of finding herself and working with her neighbors and her environment to rebuild what her grandfather destroyed in a fit of grief many years before.
While the animation style may be a tad too textured for the mainstream who expect a certain sheen, fans of the style will certainly enjoy this one. My Grandfather’s Demons is a wonderfully evocative look at the pasts we leave behind but that refuse to forget us and the ways we can come to terms with our own trauma while building a bridge between our past mistakes and the ways in which we can repair them. It’s beautiful, gentle, and emotionally satisfying; definitely one to look out for.
My Grandfather's Demons
- Nuno Beato
- Nuno Lopes
- Victoria Guerra
- Ana Sofia Martins