reviews

“A radical and revolutionary film”

I have never quite seen anything like Tito on Ice. The film, which scooped the Grand Prize for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, is a unique hybrid of animation and documentary. It’s not necessarily something new to use animation in documentary film, but Tito on Ice takes form and meaning to new levels as it juxtaposes stunning paper cutout sequences with interviews and documentary footage shot on inexpensive DV. The film finds a kind of truth through its exploration of reality and fiction.

The film puts the benevolent dictator Marshal Tito on ice as comic creators Max Andersson and Lars Sjunnesson set off on a book tour throughout the countries of former Yugoslavia. Andersson and Sjunnesson, ever the agents of subversive humour, decide to revisit the war-ravaged country with a papier mâché corpse of the deceased political leader. The car trip, which is the main portion of the film captured in live action, allows the leader to witness the effects of war that broke out following his death.

The filmmakers interact with a number of fellow artists along the way who describe how the changes in their countries had a devastating effect on arts and culture. The interviews also note the personal toll of the war and convey how Tito’s death brought about a kind of cultural landmark akin to America’s milestone of remembering where one was the moment JFK was shot. The rotting corpse of Tito that the filmmakers truck around defies any romanticization of the man, though, as the road trip brings humorous encounters, including a run-in with border guards who all want their picture taken with the dead icon, against the backdrop of a landscape riddled with bullet holes and mines.

Looking to the past merely results in an ugly stiff, so Tito on Ice offers a counter-narrative to history in the animated segments scattered throughout the film. These sequences are darkly funny moments of structural surrealism. These strange black and white interludes offer a different, far more humorous account of history to contrast the sobering revisit in the live action scenes. The animated bursts are counter-cultural and radical, like the expression of artists who were censored during the years of war.

Tito on Ice is alternatively hilarious and informative as the comics wade further into the evidence of the war. Exploring the remains of buildings—empty shells riddled with bullet holes—Tito on Ice asks how a culture makes sense of itself in the aftermath of such devastation. The answer seems obvious: it does so through art.

The talks with artists and the interludes of punk-rock animation demonstrate a group of artists redefining themselves and expressing their anger and frustration, as well as their dreams and philosophies, through creative channels. Even one visit to an ingenious artisan demonstrates how one can literally take the remnants of war and turn it into something beautiful, as the filmmakers encounter a man who refashions artillery shells into works of art.

It’s hard to describe Tito on Ice in a way that does it justice. This is a radical and revolutionary film with a wholly informative account of history, but it’s as far from a textbook lesson as one can get. It’s both a powerful look at the horrors that war can bring and an alternatively poignant interpretation of the creative freedom that emerges after such a period of oppression. The bold, daring, and wickedly funny Tito on Ice is proof that creativity truly springs from madness.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Pat Mullen, cinemablographer.com

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“Ein großartiger Film”

Der Hybride Film. Beim Filmfest Hamburg 2013 laufen experimentellere Werke, die mehrere Genres vermischen, wahlweise Dokumentarisches und Animiertes oder Fiktionalisiertes  unter dieser Sammelbezeichnung. Bislang war mir der Fachterminus nicht wirklich geläufig und ich kann mich damit auch nicht recht anfreunden, mit einem großen Teil der dargebotenen Filme aber schon. Die aberwitzige Animationsdoku „Tito on Ice“ gehört definitiv zu den Festival-Highlights. Zwei schwedische Comiczeichner sind im Nachkriegs Ex-Jugoslawien auf Austellungstour unterwegs und haben die Mumie von Marshall Tito im Gepäck. Wahnwitz im Filmformat.

Max Andersson und Lars Sjunnesson haben zusammen den Comic „Bosnian Flag Dog“ gezeichnet. Daher werden Sie begleitet von  Co-Regisseurin Helena Ahonen zu Comicfestivals im ehemaligen Jugoslawien eingeladen. Als speziellen Gimmick, der auch im Comic eine wichtige Rolle spielt, haben sie den verstorbenen jugoslawischen Präsidenten Tito im Gepäck, vielmehr eine Styropor-Version seiner Mumie. Das führt zu allerlei seltsamen Begegnungen und einer hochinteressanten Rundreise durch die Subkulur der von Kriegen verheerten Städe im ehemaligen Jugoslawien.

Grundlage für den Film sind die rohen Videoaufnahmen, die während der Reise 2003 entstanden. Der Künstler Max Andersson hat das Ganze noch mit wahnwitzigen, teilweise hysterisch lustigen Stop-Motion-Animationen angereichert, die „Tito on Ice“ zu einem optischen Genuss machen. Zu den Sounds von Balkanpunk und Laibach-Industrial  wechseln sich zerstörte Innenstädte, Interviewsequenzen und grobe, bewusst handgemachte Animationen, die sowohl an den filmischen Expressionismus der 1920er als auch an die sozialistische Kollosal-Architektur der Ostblockstaaten erinnern.

Doch von Niedergeschlagenheit ist wenig zu spüren, vielmehr vermittelt „Tito On Ice“ die damalige Aufbruchsstimmung und auf absurd lustige Weise den Kulturschock der herumreisenden Schweden. Das erinnert stimmungsmäßig bisweilen auch an Julie Zehs Reiseroman „Die Stille ist ein Geräusch“ von 2001, als sich die Schriftstellerin auf eine Reise durch Bosnien wagte, ist aber weitaus durchgeknallter. Die Comics von Max Andersson werden hierzulande bei Reprodukt verlegt.

Fazit: „Tito On Ice“ ist ein mutiger Animations-Dokumentations-Crossover, der sowohl witzig als auch politisch ist und eine Gegenkultur zeigt, die in der Geschichtsschreibung so selten zu sehen ist. Ein großartiger Film, der beim Animationsfestival in Ottawa prämiert wurde.

Movie Rating: 8,5 (out of 10)

Frank Schmidke, brutstatt.de

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“A sincere and suggestive statement of life and art”

It could have been an animated graphic novel, and maybe it is. Tito on Ice by the Swedish comic artist and animator Max Andersson and the Berlin-based artist Helena Ahonen is an engrossing political road movie to the no-land of former Yugoslavia.

With the promotion of the comic book Bosnian Flat Dog as their starting point,  Max Andersson and his collaborator Lars Sjunnesson tour the countries of former Yugoslavia in a documentary, live-action fashion, but also including animated commentary (objects 100% out of garbage and discarded material).

Their vampire accessory is a mummified Tito, the leader of the former socialist country (died in 1980), who tried hard to make former Yugoslavia hostile both to the Soviets and Westerners alike.

The zombified but now harmless Marshal is made out of styrofoam and papier-mâché; his medals come from Swedish swimming school and his uniform from East Germany. This almost sympathetic Tito prop is a constant reminder of a country no longer united, a country in which war atrocities have come to make its urban landscape desperately similar.

From Ljubljana to Belgrade and Sarajevo, Andersson and his team use the ploy of creative and underground art as the only commenting and responsible agent on behalf of socialist and pre-war Yugoslavia. Contemporary comics artists, animators and musicians, such as Igor Hofbauer, Igor Prassel, Katerina Mirović, and Radovan Popović are the team’s guide to the remnants which are made pieces of art. (A Swedish ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina also comments, but refuses to be photographed with the Tito mummy).

Using a grenade as a pencil holder or a surgical knife to draw a comic book page gives a wry feeling of a world now reduced to an archival status. The various mutations of East European Mickey Mouse presented only lead the way to animated absurdity.

Yet, the overriding impression of Tito on Ice is, unlike Andersson’s daring One Hundred Years, mostly of an all-inclusive, never-ending black box lost – and nowhere to be found.

The grainy feel object animation provides (a bit of a highly symbolic animatio povera here) also guides the live-action footage:  animated buildings ready for a crucifixion give their places to urban disasters and abandoned buildings with children playing in the courtyard. Animation continues, comments and sometimes exercises its full potential (creating concentration camps is a case in point.)

Rather than being pro-Tito, who is also described as a ruthless dictator, Tito on Ice comes out as a well-observed situation of a pirated world, having no real identity of its own. (The Swedish urban landscape is not spared either in its closetedness). When the black market of cd piracy comes out along the Tito mummy, it becomes clear that nothing original and lawful would ever come out of a puppet.

Tito on Ice is a loose but potent cinematic adventure through time, identity, Balkan music and politics. Unlike Kusturica’s films, pace is slow here and less grotesque than its subject matter would invite. Max Andersson’s debut feature documentary is almost caring and affective for a land where cockroaches seem to walk uninhibitedly over the pages of a comic book.

Not a partisan anti-war manifesto, but a sincere and suggestive statement of life and art in mummified years, Tito on Ice is more warm in its simplicity than its title suggests.

Vassilis Kroustalis, zippyframes.com

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“Harmonizes form and content into a perfect cinematic rhythm”

Tito on Ice is a punk-rock political road documentary that follows comic book creators Max Andersson and Lars Sjunnesson as they travel throughout former Yugoslavia in promotion of their new book, Bosnian Flat Dog.

Before embarking on their journey, Andersson and Sjunnesson create a creepy corpse-like sculpture of Marshal Tito, the benevolent dictator that ruled ex-Yugoslavia for nearly three decades. The mummified Tito, made of paper mâche and other waste materials, is a sort of Dadaist assemblage that accompanies the duo on their quest to uncover the regions’ communist past by interviewing local artists.

Their journey is captured using a low-resolution video camera and the live footage is intercut with animation made from cardboard scraps. The cardboard cut-outs are shot on black and white 8mm film, resulting in choppy animation that is, at first, uncomfortable to watch.

But as the strange and upbeat Balkan soundtrack enhances the frenetic pacing, the film begins to take on a pulse of its own. The jarring jump cuts between live action and animation, combined with the obscure ‘60s surf-rock, ‘70s post-punk, and ‘80s new wave, is so satisfyingly bizarre, it begins to feel like a graphic novel come to life.

Local writers, artists, and musicians act as historians to provide an illuminating account what life was like under Tito, as well as the current struggles facing those living in the former republic. Although interviewees are quick to explain how Tito cleverly subverted democracy in favour of strict authoritative measures, the former leader is often venerated.

In a region that has been stained by civil war in recent years, you can’t help but admire Titoism for maintaining economic and cultural stability for upwards of 30 years. The sentiment is evident when Andersson and Sjunnesson attempt to cross the Croatia-Bosnia border with the Tito sculpture. Surprisingly, the guards are not offended by the grotesque mummy, but laugh and ask to have their photo taken with it.

Onward to Mostar, Bosnia, where two local poets started an “Alternative Institute.” In recent years, the Institute hosted lectures, concerts, and art shows. As one of the founders explains, the Institute became the only place in post-war Bosnia that encouraged real reconciliation between Croats and Muslims. Due to threats of violence and a lack of support from local authorities, the Institute is no longer operating. With this, it is clear that socialist revolution is not a historical fact in ex-Yugoslavia’s past, but rather something creative communities are still fighting for. It’s a struggle that has been initiated, but has yet to actualize.

Overall, Tito on Ice is weird, informative, and does something only great films do: it harmonizes form and content into a perfect cinematic rhythm. Surrealist absurdity, constructivist montage, and good old-fashioned cinema vérité oscillate to open up the complex realities of a tried and failed version of socialism. Such aesthetic interplay evokes the political dichotomies that ex-Yugoslavia, and arguably all nations, continue to be confronted with (capitalism vs. socialism, nationalism vs. communism).

The DIY animation, jarring edits, and punk soundtrack, juxtaposed against the quiet despondent post-war townships Andersson and Sjunnesson visit, acts as a call to action. It wakes and shakes the viewer out of our Hollywood slumber and forces us to consider who the true revolutionaries are (hint: they aren’t the politicians).

Selina Crammond, Discorder Magazine

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“Humor permeates the muggy melancholy”

★★★★☆

There can be few stranger accompaniments to a promotional book tour than the companion to authors of the darkly funny comic Bosnian Flat Dog, Max Andersson and Lars Sjunnesson; the preserved corpse of Marshal Tito. Documenting this expedition around the countries of the ex-Yugoslavia, the pair along with Helena Ahonen, interview local writers on their experiences of the devastating Yugoslav Wars.

Screenshots of the graphic-novel’s brooding style of illustration are mirrored in the barren landscapes driven through, dotted with abandoned architectural memories of a different time. Anecdotes shared give an idea to the ranging scale of experiences across nations; some light-hearted, others extremely pained. This strained atmosphere can be seen in artwork of those featured, most jarringly felt in the unnerving twitchiness of Andersson’s chaotic stop-motion animation, depicting segments of their journey.

Humour permeates the muggy melancholy – amused chuckles over a giant “spaceship” built in a mine – combined with a strong sense of resilience. Like Bonsian Flat Dog was Andersson and Sjunnesson’s way of dealing with their experiences, we’re shown how others have pulled positivity from the horrific – the man who carves shell casings. And while aesthetically repellent, amused reactions from encounters along the way (smiling border guards) provoked by the oddly fascinating model of the deceased leader, reflect how bleak associations with that shared era of history have been subverted.

Callum Madge, TVBomb

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