Friday, August 14, 2015

Best Animated Short Make-Up Review: Dedalo (1976)

All right, I'll admit it. I've been completely ignoring this blog, leaving it fallow like abandoned buildings in a ghost town. I can't blame the lack of time, because even with my 60-80 hour a week job I still find time to play video games like Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Super Mario Galaxy (gotta love Rosalina). I can't blame the fact there's been nothing to post. Even if it's not time for the Best Animated Short race, there are numerous other posts that I've been planning, from my favorite animated TV shows or rankings of Studio Ghibli films...

...or, I don't know, one of the Missing Three?

Yes, Dedalo, one of the few films that I never thought I'd find. When I went searching in the World Catalog, this was one of the few films that never showed up in any of the libraries around the world, alongside two other members of the Missing Three. I was so desperate that when I found a character from the film in an artwork created by an artist, I e-mailed her and asked where she saw the film. She directed me to the History of Animation course offered by the Academy of Art University. I dropped $2000 to take the course, and then found out that the course only offered a 2-minute snippet, one that was taken from John Halas's Masters of Animation video, which I bought sometime that year.

I was back to square one, or so I thought. One day in October of 2012, I stumbled across the blog of animation historian David Kilmer, where he listed his favorite non-Hollywood cartoons in screenshot form. The list included films that were quite familiar, such as The Critic, Frank Film, Great, and Closed Mondays. It included films that I've never heard of, like Nedeljko Dragic's Diary, Alexander Alexeieff's The Nose, and Noburo Ofuji's The Whale. However, it was a different film that really captured my attention. Nestled in between Dragic's Passing Days and Jiri Trnka's The Hand was a screenshot that looked mighty familiar, one that I've seen from a website promoting films shown in a festival celebrating Italian animation in Japan. It was a screenshot from none other than Manfredo Manfredi's elusive film Dedalo.

I quickly emailed Mr. Kilmer asking where he saw it. I waited and waited for a response but it never came. I bombed my clinical skills boards, fucked up most of my residency interviews, passed my repeat boards, got my 26th choice of residency, went to Taiwan, came back from Taiwan, graduated from medical school, and got ready to start residency. Finally, on June 24, 2013, eight months after I sent the first e-mail, I got finally got a reply. He directed me towards a book he had written but never gotten published: The Animated Film Collector's Guide. In it was collection info on thousands upon thousands of animated short films and feature films. I looked for some of the other films that I was missing at the time such as How War Came, The Shepherd, Hypothese Beta, and Rippling Romance, but those were missing. I then looked up Dedalo and found the source:

"Manfredo Manfredi; C/O Cineteam; via Giuseppe Armellini, 39; 00143 Roma; Italy (Possible source for Mr. Manfredi's films)"

So we had to send a letter via snail mail to an address in Italy that may or may not have Manfredi's films? I was a little reluctant to do that, especially with residency and its long hours and hard work ahead of me. I put it on the backburner, or as you might call: procrastination. Over the next two years several of the other missing films began trickling out, from Jerry Beck finally posting the elusive How War Came in May of 2013 and then fellow animation buff Rajko Petkovic notifying me all the way from Croatia about O Misto na Slunci in July 2013. Finally, after I took an epic trip to Miami to pick up two more of the missing films with the help of Tommy Stathes, I knew there was no more time to procrastinate.

I messaged a friend from the University of Virginia, Steve Gong (best known for his film "Pyongyang Style" which features footage smuggled out of North Korea), and asked him to draft a letter in Italian, one of the languages in which he is fluent. He helped me with the letter, but expressed his doubt that this would work. Nevertheless, it was the only way. I mailed the letter, hoping for the best. Surprisingly enough, only two weeks later I got an e-mail from Alessia Alberto from Cineteam asking me how I wanted the file. After a few more e-mails back and forth (with help from Steve), I got in contact with Aldo Raparelli, whom I later found out was the writer and composer for the film. He sent me a link to download the film without even asking for payment. And soon my search was over. I had finally come to own a copy of Dedalo.

So how is the film that I spent so much time and money to acquire? Well, that's what this review is for. (A review that will be far shorter than the tale of how I came across the film.)

A man and a woman sit in a room. Birds fly outside the open window. The two sit quietly, looking at each other, with the woman wearing a smug expression. All of a sudden the man reaches over and strangles the woman to death. To repay society for his serious crime, the man is sent on a journey down into a labyrinth of sorrow and despair. While facing the tribunal, he is frequently reminded of the fact that what has been broken may never be repaired. As he travels down deeper into the depths of the halls of horror, the man wonders what he can do to save himself. Is it possible to take back what he has done to the woman? To go back in time and pretend that none of this ever happened? To say that it was all in his head?

Dedalo is a film by Italian artist and animator Manfredo Manfredi. While he's not very well known here in America, he has made quite a name for himself in Italy (although it helps that he shares a name with a great Italian architect.) He is known for his diverse use of media and his use of a style that has often been described as being akin to abstract expressionism. Through his many collaborations with Aldo Raparelli he made many films that explore the human condition. Dedalo is the one for which he is best known, probably because of the Oscar nomination. The title itself is a bit of a conundrum. It is known in English speaking countries by "Labyrinth," but Dedalo doesn't translate to "Labyrinth." Instead, it is the Italian name for Daedalus, the ancient Greek hero best known for crafting wings for him and his son Icarus to help escape the clutches of King Minos (an event which was referenced in the Oscar nominated Icarus Montgolfier Wright). However, before all that Daedalus helped Minos build the labyrinth in which the king stored his son, the Minotaur. I suppose the name Dedalo is an allusion to the metaphysical labyrinth that the main character goes through, while "Labyrinth" is a more direct title.

Anyways, let's start by focusing on the craft. Dedalo is a gorgeous film. Even if the digital copy I have was a transfer from a film in pretty pitiful condition, the film's artistry shines through. Manfredi animated the film by mostly following a black and white palette. The contrast between the black and the white gives the entire film a feel reminiscent of most film noir especially with the use of light and shadows. While most of the film is in dreary black and white there were some clever use of color. It catches your eyes just like the doomed girl in the red coat in Schindler's List and really highlights the symbolism. The use of what appears (in my highly unprofessional eyes) to be charcoal gives much of the film a coarse, hazy look. However, the key characters are animated in great detail, with extra emphasis given to the muscles and sinews and the facial expressions (which is mostly pained.) The animation is a bit jerky, where much of the action seems to dissolve into each other rather than a smooth transition, but that might be deliberate. The music by Raparelli is also quite well. It is done in such a way to evoke the sense of angst and desperation.

Now what about the film itself? Well, Manfredi is known to work within the realm of expressionism, which steers away from straightforward storytelling, and focuses more on evoking a certain emotion in its viewers. And Dedalo certainly falls into this category. It definitely gives you a feeling of despair, but at the same time the lack of linearity and reliance of symbolism makes it a bit of a confusing film to watch. The synopsis on the Japanese website where I first read about the film* gives some insight into the film, but even then it took me several viewings before I felt I maybe had some idea of what was going on. A labyrinth is different from a maze in that traditionally it only has one path from beginning to end, but sends you through so much twists and turns that you find yourself loss. My guess is that the film is a labyrinth through the man's crime and punishment (or at least his thoughts of the crime). However, there are still many questions that are left unanswered. Why is the man wanting to kill the woman? What is the significance of the little girl on the swing? And do Manfredi and Raparelli really have an answer to these questions, or do they want us to come up with our own interpretation? The questions are endless. As such, Dedalo is a little bit of a frustrating film to watch, but still worth checking out.

*A man and a woman sit quietly. All of a sudden, the wind blows the window open, and a dramatic scene full of distress is about to begin. This drama is just like a reconstruction, but it is actually what is going on in the man's heart. This film combines light and shadow to create an artistic work.

And as for rankings? Well, as tough as it is to watch Dedalo, I'd still say it's a better watch than Leisure, the film that actually won the Oscar in 1976. I'm not so sure it tops Caroline Leaf's The Street, which combines artistic animation technique with a more coherent plot of loss as seen through the eyes of a child. For the decade rankings, I'd slot it at 28, between Jimmy the C and The Legend of John Henry.

Where Can I Watch It?
Well, I COULD put the film online and then embed it on this blog, but the people at CineTeam were so generous in giving me the film without asking for any repayment that I hate to ruin their trust by plastering it for all to see. However, I am going to let you know that the address listed earlier in the post works, so if you REALLY wanted to watch the film you can write to that address and get the film yourself. Simple, right?


  1. I can't believe in many years of searching for short animation nominees I missed this amazing blog! Now thanks to you I am on the last one too. Thank you for this, REALLY! If I find anything about Rippling Romance you will be the first person to know.

    1. Glad I was able to help out. Hope one of us finds something about it soon.