Rotterdam 2024 Review: KISS WAGON Proves That Liking A Movie Isn't All Black And White

Midhun Murali's massive animated oddity can leave you in two minds.

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Rotterdam 2024 Review: KISS WAGON Proves That Liking A Movie Isn't All Black And White

Kiss Wagon, by director Midhun Murali is an epic, 3 hour shadow play animation, that is at the same time both minimalist and maximalist. It is also, somehow, undercooked and overbaked, too convoluted and holding the viewers hand too much; and saying too much and too little. It is the "most film" that was shown at the IFFR, for better or worse, meaning that it takes the art of cinema to its extreme. While I might sound initially quite damning, it is worth it seeking out for the more adventurous viewer.

Shades of Lotte Reiniger exist in this story about a chaotic world and a perilous journey to deliver a package. Kiss Wagon is a scifi adventure, all animated in monochrome except for a few colour scenes, with the characters in stark black silhouettes. It is like Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, the first surviving full length feature animation, but for the Adobe After Effects era. It also plays a lot like a less irreverent version of the films of Phill Mulloy. While Mulloy's use of silhouette animation is there to break down cinema to its bare minimum for expert comedic effect, here the goals of the director, Midhun Murali, are loftier. There is a droll sense of humor to Kiss Wagon, yes, but it also tries to tell a story about political turmoil and oppression over its 3 hours, barely hiding the fact that it can be read as a statement about India's current political system, or many other countries for that matter.

IFFR2024-KissWagon-ext1.jpgThe problem is that, while narratively things get extremely hard to follow and convoluted at times, there are as many instances where the director holds the hand of the viewer too much and explains his subtext quite literally. When a character explains in detail why the particular world of the film lacks color, it feels, to paraphrase Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that 'the subtext is rapidly becoming text'. In some ways in Kiss Wagon subtext and text become reversed in importance. It is easy to get lost in the myriad narrative nuances, while being banged over the head with their meaning, sympathetic as the message might be.

The style might also be grating to some, being fairly minimalist in its use of animation, while at the same time having so much going on on screen it might be headache inducing. At times the frames in frames, and the Baudrillardian bombardment of signs, play out like an ode to latter day Peter Greenaway, and your mileage may vary if that is necessarily a good thing. But like that iconoclast Brit, this film is never lazy, and never boring, and also never middle of the road, and that is more than can be said of many a film during this edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Cause, at times Kiss Wagon, among all the pomp and circumstance, has moments of pure cinematic bliss. It might feel like a lot is being thrown at the wall, to see what sticks, but the fact is a whole lot of it does stick in the mind. Kiss Wagon is a very personal vision, boasting a vision of the future that is (gender)queer, outspokenly political, deeply heartfelt and sincere, loud and unapologetic, and painted in many shades of gray. It might be a film that left me at a loss for a lot of its running time, at other times it is truly winning. That is the paradoxical nature of Kiss Wagon, it is a film that I might not like much, but that I also kinda love.

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