To evoke the complexity of human emotion via the manipulation of non-human objects is one of the great challenges in animation. In her BA graduate film, FAMU animation student Daria Kashcheeva manages not only to immerse her audience in the fraught relationships that make up her family drama, Daughter, but also to ground the perspective from which the film is shot firmly in the immediacy of human experience by mimicking the viewpoint of a hand-held camera.
Pivoting around a father-daughter relationship, Daughter considers the difficulties of navigating the simultaneous intense closeness and agonising distance between family members, and the emotional impact of miscommunicated love. As Daria describes her narrative, “the story is about a girl who finds a dead bird and wants to share her pain with her father, looking for solace in his embrace. The father is immersed in his own worries; he is cooking lunch and does not take any notice of his daughter’s mood and desire. The girl takes her father’s behaviour as a rejection, and closes up in her inner world, full of longing for her father’s love.”
The trauma that spirals out inexorably from a single instance of failed connection between father and daughter is captured with an affecting candidness by Daria’s use of stop motion animation. For her, the technique affects a closeness with the world of the characters as a tactile reality. “I like the air between the camera and the puppets, which is tangible and which I cannot feel in computer 2D animation.” This proximity to the characters is further enhanced by Daria’s painstaking filming technique. Instead of adopting the fixed perspective of an objective viewer, she simulates the cinematic effect of hand-held footage by animating the motions of her camera as well as the movements of her puppets.
“I have always admired the work of the camera operator, the movement of the camera, the work with light and depth focus,” she tells us. “I thought, what if I used a hand-held camera in my animated movie? The idea sounded crazy at first, I couldn’t imagine at all how I would do it, but at the same time I found this idea inspiring, and I felt that dramatically it would work perfectly!” In this way, the film is executed almost like a documentary. There is a claustrophobic intensity to the swerving, jerking frames, which blur as they follow the daughter’s running footsteps or zoom suddenly on the characters’ faces, bringing the elements of the scene uncomfortably close, as if the “cameraman” were situated in the midst of the action on screen.
Daria reveals that she drew inspiration for her filming technique from live-action films: “I started to study the camera movement in my favourite acted feature films by the Dardenne brothers, Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Susanne Biere and the whole Dogma. I studied The Son by the Dardennes and Breaking the Waves by Trier, frame by frame. I watched these films maybe a thousand times.” She combined these references with filmed footage of herself, so as to accurately convey the dynamics of human expression: “In animation, especially in big details, I was using video reference. I filmed myself, then frame by frame transferred the motion of my eyes to the puppet face.”
Even with Daughter’s technique, pace and delivery so firmly situated in the action of real bodies, Daria’s scenographic style upholds the evocative power of expressionistic touches over realism. Her attention to texture with her paper mache-painted figures serves to further emphasise the puppets’ materiality, lending their animated presence the gravity of living bodies while retaining the subtle dynamism and artistry of stylised stop motion. She cites her admiration for painterly techniques, in particular, those of “Egon Schiele, who freely, courageously and also very sensitively, just with colourful stains, expressed the inner world of the person on his canvas. I felt that for a film to rouse emotions, paper and painting were the right choice.”
With a host of interdisciplinary references in both art history and live action cinema, Daria’s degree work already has a strong conception of style and a clearly defined sense of where it sits among the intersecting creative mediums upon which it draws. She wants to develop her art, she tells us, by introducing further elements that push at the boundaries of what animation can achieve: “I want to use an actor, and somehow combine pixilation, stop motion, and puppet animation. Also, I’m thinking about working with space. I always was impressed by abandoned houses and a technique called urban pixilation. So I’m thinking now how could I use this technique in my next film.”
Soon to be screened as part of the graduation films category at Annecy international film festival, Daughter heralds the arrival of a compelling new voice in animation. We can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.