PIAFFE Review: Embracing Animal Behaviour
We too often forget than humans are animals. Too many of us have divorced ourselves from the natural world, the world of our, for lack of a better phrasing, animal instincts. We clothe ouselves, eat (usually) with utensils, as if denying this inner part of ourselves in order to survive society. And yet, the animal is in there, waiting to be released. Visual artist and filmmaker Ann Oren explores the psychological and physical impact of just such a release of the animal being into a young woman in her haunting film, Piaffe.
Eva (Simone Bucio) is awoken by an incessent telephone ring; a commerical producer needs his foley sound now, and Eva's sister Zara (Simon Jaikiriuma Paetau), a foley artist, is nowhere to be found. Eva has some knowledge of the job, and it's already set up, so she begins to watch the footage: a horse doing 'piaffe' or dressage. Eva's first attempt at the sounds gets her a stern talking to by the producer, who wants her to actually understand the animal.
And so she does her best: she visits a stable, finding herself drawn to the horses therein. When she returns to the studio, she finds her senses of touch and hearing connecting with the objects Zara uses to recreate these sounds: shoes and boots, sand, hay. Soon, Eva finds herself wearing a bite and moving her hands in the boots, slowly becoming the horse. And this transfers to her body, as she finds herself quickly growing a horse's tail.
The normally near-silent and shy Eva finds a proverbial voice in this tail, her desire and sensuality cast in this long threads. Her crush, a man who studies ferns, is more than happy to help her explore that desire, and Eva finds herself more and more committed to the role. Meanwhile, Zara has placed herself in a psychiatric institution - perhaps having suffered from what Eva seems to relish? She's operating purely on instinct - an instinct brought about not only through the foley work, but whatever this tail now represents for her. She changes her clothes to match those of both rider and horse - slims fits, shoes that allows the clip-clop she thinks her feet should now make. And while she still rarely speaks, it seems her tail does all the talking for her.
Shooting in 16mm, Oren lets us feel this newfound sensuality through an analog style - the foley sound creation is warm and tactile, the wish of Eva's tail and smoothed-out movements of her behind and legs are hypnotic as she finds a human way to make it sashay. Eva quickly finds her own horse-like rhythm in her steps, and makes no attempt to hide her new identity. In a terrific club scene, Oren frames Eva either in full body, or tail, or feet - these are the parts that now speak her language. But of course, dressage isn't exactly natural to a horse, and this obsession threatens to overtake her life, even as it gives her life.
Piaffe circles strange and erotic territory, not often found in those stories of humans become other - this human wants what her new animal part gives her, and she unfurls like the ferns her love studies, but that want might be dangerous. Oren crafts a slightly off-setting but haunting tale of a girl and the creature (human or otherwise) she wishes to become.
Piaffe is set for theatrical release shortly, in New York at Quad Cinema starting August 25th, and Los Angeles at Landmark's Nuart Theatre on September 15th.
This review was first published at Sitges Festival, 2022.
- Ann Oren
- Thais Guisasola
- Ann Oren
- Simone Bucio
- Sebastian Rudolph
- Simon Jaikiriuma Paetau