Sunday, February 28, 2010

wow. chicago sunday times

this made my day. thank you sir!

The Oscar mystery nomination: The Secret of Kells

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01-1.jpg• Robert Tan of Taiwan

"Wait until you see the rest of my forest," says Aisling, before she leads Brendan to the top of an oak tree. That remark by a guardian of the forest describes "Brendan and the Secret of Kells." This deceptively simple story of a young Irish monk has hidden dimensions beneath its lush, exuberant visuals. To praise its beauty alone becomes an understatement. Its beautifully realised storytelling is rich in symbols, analogies and themes, some obvious and others not so, that give weight and meaning to a seemingly uncomplicated story, set against a mixture of history, fantasy, reality and myth.

You'd think that with many things going on, the film is bound to sag beneath its weight. Quite the opposite, it all appears maddeningly effortless (even too effortless). That alone is an accomplishment seldom equalled by other films that strive for the same feat. Filmwise, this is a welcome change from the cheap thrills, easy profundity and flat storytelling that are rampant in today's movies. Whether or not the storytelling is masterful will depend on how the movie reveals itself to you. "Brendan and the Secret of Kells" does not lend itself easily, always requiring a certain presence of mind to fully grasp it. It gives viewers a true cerebral movie-going experience. More importantly, it avoids selling its sentiments easily. It combines intricate visuals and intricate storytelling, like the motifs of the Chi Rho page of the "Book of Kells."


Brendan and the Secret of Kells. The titular character Brendan is a young monk of the Abbey of Kells, which is enclosed within a fortified village. His strict uncle, the Abbott Cellach, forbids him to go outside the walls of the fort. Hence, Brendan lives a somewhat cloistered life, even by the standard of monks. This is set sometime around 9th century Ireland, when Vikings were plundering villages "in search of gold." One day, a refugee and his cat arrive in Kells: Brother Aidan of Iona and THE adorable Pangur Bán. A foremost illuminator of his time, Aidan brings with him the unfinished Book of Iona, a treasure to the sect that was founded by St. Columba. (This Book is later to become the Book of Kells, a heritage and source of cultural pride for the Irish people.) Sensing that Brendan has the will to go beyond the restrictive, avuncular love of the Abbot, Aidan recruits the young boy to be his disciple in the art of Illuminating the Texts. There begin Brendan's adventures and his coming of age, where reality meets fantasy.

"I'm dazed and confused." Now in case you're wondering what the term "illuminating" means, it is the art of drawing monograms and such that accompany sacred texts, e.g., the Gospels transcribed to Latin. In essence, it could either be as a means of glorifying God through use of one's artistic talents, or to give the texts they "illuminate" a mystic feel. Whichever the reason, don't let it discourage you from seeing this wonderful film. I can assure you that the film does not even attempt to preach the faith. In fact, some of the film's thematic elements may even be deemed as anti-clergical, though this is not ultimately its goal. What the film partly does is entice you to go do some historical research. The film touches on Irish heritage, history and mythology. I imagine that its educational value will have more relevance to the Irish diaspora. But even for kids, this film becomes a tool for intercultural learning (resources for educational use can be found here). As for the rest of us who are not Irish, the quest and appreciation for cultural knowledge can still be mutually shared.

Its distributor,, screened it on February 27, via the NYCIFF Online Film Festival, followed by a Q&A portion with the director Tomm Moore. Mr. Moore, whom I will term a modern Illuminator, has brilliantly conceived and architected the ideas within "Kells." And no small wonder, for the ideas were conceived from his old college days. They have now become so coalesced, it must only be the result of precipitation over a long period of time. The flat, yet highly-crafted animation rather evokes the style of 2D '70s cartoons, with their skewed perspectives and angled renderings. But it all comes alive with details, lush imagery and colors of emerald green, monolithic gray, amaranth purple and ochre; of which the latter two must have been inspired by the colors of the Chi Rho Page (one of the most stylised and intricate pages inside the Book of Kells). And, the Celtic beat of Bruno Coulais' music gives the film rustic redolence of folk Ireland.

Anne Thompson talks with director Tomm Moore , Part 1:

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