Viennale 2023 Review: ROBOT DREAMS, A Nostalgic, Animated Exploration of Loss and Companionship
Spanish director Pablo Berger's foray into animation with Robot Dreams presents an engaging narrative exploring themes of friendship, loss, and reconnection, set against the dynamic backdrop of 1980s New York City.
Berger gained notable recognition with his silent adaptation of Snow White set against the backdrop of Spanish corrida. Robot Dreams follows suit as a silent re-interpretation, or rather, a loose adaptation of Sara Varon’s graphic novel of the same name, serving simultaneously as a homage. This cinematic adaptation successfully captures the essence of Varon's distinctive narrative style, transforming the whimsical world of her characters into a vibrant, dialogue-free film.
The story, unfolding against the rhythmic backdrop of 1980s New York City, populated by anthropomorphic animals of various races and colors, centers on a character named Dog Varon. The story subtly plays with references and visual humor as Dog, feeling the sting of solitude, decides to venture into companionship. This leads to a turning point where a solution appears in the form of a late-night commercial advertising a build-your-own-robot kit.
After placing an order and waiting with growing impatience, the arrival of the delivery man sends Dog's tail into an ecstatic wag. He then assembles his metallic companion, bringing it to life in a scene reminiscent of the classic Frankenstein monster's awakening. Despite its dramatic introduction, Robot emerges as a character brimming with cheerful, childlike joy and wonder, making it an ideal companion for Dog's adventures in the Big Apple.
Robot Dreams presents a tale of friendship with a balanced blend of emotion, apt for a family animated movie. The narrative takes an emotionally charged turn when Robot is stranded on Coney Island at the end of summer due to a mechanical malfunction. Consequently, Dog must wait until the following summer to legally reclaim his metallic friend. During this period, Dog learns to adapt to life without Robot, who, in turn, yearns for a reunion with his companion, dreaming of the day they reconnect after their unforeseen separation.
The film features a vibrant musical backdrop, with Alfonso de Vilallonga's original score interlacing seamlessly with iconic 1980s hits. Notably, Earth, Wind & Fire's September emerges as a recurring musical motif throughout the movie. In terms of visual aesthetics, the animation draws inspiration from the Ligne Claire style, enhancing the narrative's sense of nostalgia. Additionally, the use of Deep Focus technique, in conjunction with traditional 2D animation, creates a harmonious blend of simplicity and expressiveness.
Remarkably, Robot Dreams steers clear of overt sentimentality. The film is imbued with a sense of nostalgia and a touch of melancholy, particularly after the central characters are separated and must come to terms with their new reality. Eschewing conventional fable-like narratives about friendship, the film charts a distinct course. It subtly conveys a pedagogical message to younger audiences about resilience, the importance of moving forward, and the value of cherishing memories as they mature.
Berger skillfully tugs at the heartstrings in Robot Dreams, yet does so with precise timing, rendering the journey of reconciliation dramatic, unexpected, and tinged with bittersweetness. In essence, Robot Dreams skews closer to an adult narrative cloaked in the guise of a children's film. Adults are likely to resonate more deeply with the themes of lost friendship, loneliness, and the yearning for companionship. Younger viewers, on the other hand, may find greater enjoyment in the rollicking adventures of Dog and Robot set against the backdrop of the bustling city.
- Pablo Berger
- Pablo Berger
- Sara Varon
- Ivan Labanda
- José García Tos
- Graciela Molina