Three Fragments of a Lost Tale (John Frame, 2011): USA

Reviewed by Luke Catena; Santa Barbara Film Festival 2012.

Arguably not the best of the Animation Shorts program, however, “Three Fragments of a Lost Tale” was certainly the most perplexing. Artfully crafted, Director John Frame uses handmade sculptures and stop-action photography to create this seemingly existential film. Wonderful cinematography moves the camera around an unknown world of deformed and unconventional characters.

The short opens to a barren field. Fade to Black. A broken wood bed lies alone on gray dirt. Fade to Black. Tiny, bright green blades of grass begin to grow all around the bed, accompanied by a symphonic melody. Fade to Black. A lush field now consumes the screen. Fade to Black. An unidentifiable man walks across the knee high grass carrying a sickle. The grass continues to grow. Fade to Black. The man appears. His face is not human nor beast. Fade to Black. The bed is significant to the man. He shaves away a layer of grass. He identifies markings on the bed. Fade to Black. A ladder hangs from darkness. Fade to Black. Reaching high above, the man cannot grasp the lowest rung. He collapses. Fade to Black. The grass grows higher, covering the bed. Only the top of the sickle reaches above the tallest blades. The man desperately crawls towards the tool. Fade to Black. Three Fragments of a Lost Tale.

As the film continues, it is unclear if there is a narrative structure guiding the action. Characters are introduced but not explained. There is no dialogue to ease the tension. Faces appear on screen and fade out. Calm, harmonic music scores the film. Beautiful lighting and camera movements keep the viewer engaged, all while wondering, “What the hell am I watching?”

Two weeks later, I am still not entirely sure.

Existentialism comes to mind. Individual parts moving through a confusing, meaningless world. Frame has created a confusing world, that is undeniable. Meaningless, however, I am not so sure.

In a broad sense of the word, “meaningless” can certainly be defined and associated to aspects of the material world. But people do not create meaningless art. Frame is showcasing life. Life is all around us and our own lives have meaning to ourselves but others only see part of it, so to them, they are not shown the full tale. Only fragments.

“Three Fragments of a Lost Tale” captured my attention and caused me to think. There is little more I can ask of from a director. Did I get a complete explanation of what I saw? No. Are my thoughts of the film the same as John Frame’s or any other viewer? Possibly, but probably not. This is why I loved it. Life does not have clear cut explanations and plot structure, and one person certainly never gets the whole story.

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