Director Réka Bucsi's Oscar-shortlisted 'Symphony No. 42' ponders the absurdity of life through depressed elephants, brain-dead humans, and Damien Hirst.
As much as I love short films, I never thought I'd be 100 articles deep in writing about them. There are great films out there, for sure. But for every mind-blowing one, there are hundreds of inane, heavy-handed, stupid ones. It's an uphill battle to bring you top-notch content every week, but I've tried to remain vigilant in my quest for goodness and I'm proud to say that this 100th one is a doozy. Plus, icing on the cake, it's the filmmaker's first film, which was animated as part of her thesis for MOME (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest), which went on to win over 45 awards internationally and was shortlisted for the 87th Academy Awards. I'm proud to present animator Réka Bucsi's acclaimed absurdist short film, "Symphony No. 42," which begins like many landmark things—with a bang.
From the opening scene of "Symphony No. 42," where a fox draws a moving, mystical image before pulling out a gun and shooting itself, you know this short will take you places. The film is a compendium of vignettes that blend nature and pop culture with a surrealist, deadpan sensibility. Whether Busci is poking fun of famous artists like Damien Hirst, who's found painting his dumb dots on his iconic shark, or juxtaposing helpless elephants against brain-dead humans, her absurdist situations illuminate something about our condition. However, in each situation, next to the dry, dark humor is a futility or sadness that is never quite addressed. What does it all mean? Who knows? In the end, her whimsical creatures, affectless humans, and moments of surreal irrationality offer no answers, but they do swirl together into, well, pretty much everything.
I reached out to director Réka Bucsi to see if she could help shed some light on her ideas and her future films. Check it out below.
VICE: Why "Symphony No. 42"? What was wrong with the ones before it?
Réka Bucsi: Forty-two is a magical number that looks good, is a suspiciously central number in the world of science, and still I think means nothing at all. I like to just take things as they are, and not symbolise them, but it's really not easy to do that with movies. Also, I'm sure Mozart had some great symphonies before his 42nd one, but this has nothing to do with the man.
Then have you always been a fan of symphonies? What is it about the classical form that gets you going?
I like classical music – it makes me feel smarter than I actually am. I have huge respect for some composers, and listening to their music is a great inspiration. I also think classical music can build a really great contrast with some of my work. It helps me balance between dramatic and sarcastic.
What came first, your character design or the visual gags associated with them? I especially love the reoccurring gag of the elephant painting for help.
"Symphony No. 42" wasn't meant to be a gag film. But I was really glad when the audience reacted with laughter, as this showed me that I could hit that spot in other people that I thought as a "laugh-cry" moment in the film. The characters came simultaneously with the situations I put them in. It was never first a character and than a story. The situation brought the character along, and the character defined what it could do best. I think that poor elephant doesn't deserve laughter, but I'm really glad you enjoyed watching him suffer!
Well, your short is still absurd, in the best way. I don't think there's any getting around that. But having traveled around the world with it now, what has been the most absurd response to "Symphony No. 42"?
There was a guy once, who asked me in a letter if I am part of some kind of secret society, because of the sign that the fox draws in the very beginning of the film. He was quite suspicious and sent me some screenshots of other films that have the sign as well and asked me what is going on in the film industry, and to reveal the truth. It was really hard to resist not sending him a well-built-up conspiracy theory that would scare him to death.
Even though you're a relatively new animator, both this and your newest short "Love" seem to tell their stories through vignettes. Is that style of storytelling more exciting to you than something more linear?
Actually, "Love" is very different from "Symphony No. 42." The trailer may make you feel it's a similar structure, but it's a way more concrete story. I wouldn't call the situations vignettes anymore, but I wouldn't call it classical storytelling either. I'm just excited about the short form of film. I think it is a perfect platform for experimenting with storytelling, composing pictures and sound. It's only recently that I started to feel a growing interest in feature length, and how I could maybe include the things I like in the short format.
What are you working on now?
I just finished my new film "Love," which is a 14-minute-long, French-Hungarian co-production. That film took a lot of time to finance and make, but will be shown in competition at the Berlin Film Festival for the first time [next week]. I recently worked with some great people on a short promotional film for a city in Denmark, but mainly I try to just draw without deadlines for a bit now, and see what happens. In the near future, I would like to do something based on music. I will be part of an artist-in-residence program in Vienna in May, where I want to start developing a new short little something.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as a film curator. He's the senior curator for Vimeo's On Demand platform. He has also programmed at Tribeca Film Festival, Rooftop Films, and the Hamptons International Film Festival.
For information on Réka Busci, visit her website.