Cheatin’, MIFF 2014

Published in Buzzcuts, as part of the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Renowned for his animated shorts, documentaries and music videos, legendary animator Bill Plympton is back in action with Cheatin’, his first animation feature in five years.

Funded by Kickstarter and completely hand drawn by Plympton himself, the animated feature introduces the audience to Ella – a snobby, upper class young lady whose dazzling beauty instantly garners unwanted attention from perverted male suitors. Lured into an amusement ride by a carnival barker, Ella comes face to face with death itself until she is saved by hunky adonis, Jake, their fateful meeting becoming love at first site.

But the smooth sailing doesn’t last long as blackmail, miscommunication and infidelity threaten to take root in the relationship. Their marital bliss is put to the ultimate test when constant temptation begins to enshroud them like a parasitical plague.

Everything blows to smithereens when Jake is shown an incriminating photo of Ella in what seems to be an act of infidelity with a group of men, when in actual fact she is just changing clothes in a room full of mannequins. Nonetheless, Jake is heartbroken, and it is from this moment that we witness his inevitable descent into serial adultery, leaving Ella alone and confused.

Told without any discernible dialogue (except the occasional humming, cooing and exclaiming), the characters are magnificently detailed. It’s quite clear that the two protagonists act as gender caricatures, especially through Ella’s wide curvaceous hips and Jake’s muscle-bound chest, both of which denote society’s emphasis on sexual appeal and prowess.

Though the story does appear slightly muddled at times, Plympton does his best with the seamless transitions that take place. What results from his efforts are smooth sequences where love, happiness and sex are exemplified through subtle symbolism and the human imagination. The way one object instantly transforms into another is one of Plympton’s major strengths. His immense talent in this field is certainly played upon during the more intimate scenes, for instance, when Ella releases her highly secured, locked away heart to Cupid as she finally takes a chance on love with Jake.

However, what makes this animated feature so spectacular is the score. Featuring an array of music artists from Nicole Renaud to Uli Geissenoefer, one could even say that the music is what helps the audience understand what is actually going on. Upbeat music is featured during the honeymoon period while slower, deeper tunes permeate during the more melancholic moments. Meanwhile, Renaud’s unique vocals make a nice heavenly touch, giving the animated feature an overall sophisticated European feel.

Directed, produced, and written by Plympton himself, Cheatin’ elegantly displays sexual strife and diabolical discord in all of its crazy glory, making it a rare visual spectacle that provides perplexing insight into the ups and downs of a fated relationship in a magical world. This is definitely something not to be missed.

4/5 stars

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