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Lucas Testro [Film Festival 08.17.12] animation drama

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Alois Nebel, a black & white rotoscoped animation from the Czech Republic, is a beautiful-looking piece of work, but for those with limited knowledge of Czech history such as myself, the intricacies of this quiet story of revenge will probably get a little lost.

The eponymous Alois is a train dispatcher in a small Czech town. He's a quiet man with a haunted air, who gets reassurance from re-reading train timetables because they're predictable and never change. Around Alois, though, the country is changing fast. It's 1989, and the Communist regime is about to be deposed. The town authorities, on the take, are also conspiring to have Alois removed from his job and replaced by his slobbish, corrupt sub-ordinate so that Alois can't interfere in their smuggling operations. And a mystery stranger has crossed the border and is being hunted, in connection with a secret that relates back to the dying days of World War 2 and a shooting that just might be the source of all Alois' ghosts.

Re-reading that last paragraph, it sounds like a much more exciting story than it felt actually watching it.

The film moves at a deliberately slow pace, which I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with, but here I never had enough sense of what was going on, or how the various plotlines connected to each other, and so the brooding atmosphere served only to frustrate rather than building suspense. It also doesn't help that Alois is a particularly passive character - things happen to him rather than him driving the action - so there was no character helping to make sense of things for viewers who left in the dark. Instead, we're cast adrift, being washed around in the currents of the story without much sense of where we're going or why.

Animation aficionados may still find a lot to like in Alois Nebel simply for its look. The stark black & white animation is fantastic, creating a brooding noir sensibility that is a perfect match for a story about hidden secrets, blackmarket deals, and settling old scores.

But for those looking for more of a story, the film's breezy 84 minute running time will probably feel considerably longer.

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