(ITALY 1976 85 min)
Director Bruno Bozzetto; Writers Bruno Bozzetto, Guido Manuli, Maurizio Nichetti; Cinematography Luciano Marzetti, Mario Masini
by Stephen Russell-Gebbett
Allegro Non Troppo comprises six shorts, animated to well-known classical pieces, that have little in common with each other. However, the thematic coherence of portmanteau films, in the same way as an album is expected to have an ideological, emotional or generic throughline, is an overrated trait. If one gets bored, and you won’t, the next installment will be something completely different, albeit presented with the same giddy inventiveness.
The delicacies on this platter include a minute old devil trying to recapture his youth on the vast undulating landscape of a woman’s body, a neanderthal’s hilariously frustrated attempts to keep ahead of the Joneses, a heartbreaking tale of a cat who haunts the ruined house where he used to live, a bee’s picnic preparations hampered by an amorous couple, and a sardonic twist on the tale of Adam and Eve where the serpent lives to regret eating the apple himself.
The piece de la resistance is the third movement in the program, one that betrays that Allegro Non Troppo‘s roots lie in Disney’s Fantasia (‘fantasia’ means “a free composition” or “a medley of familiar themes with variations and interludes”). To Ravel’s Bolero director Bruno Bozzetto leads us through a fantastical evolution, a march to progress, from the most sublimely ugly creations all the way up to the present day and the most extraordinary creature of all : humans. However, this proves an anticlimax as humanity is shown destroying the forest to replace it with a new glass and steel one made of skyscrapers.
Hand-drawn animation is perfectly tailored to metamorphoses and the fluidity of the languid legato lines of this majestic sequence is an especially stunning example. Animation lends itself to stories of transmogrification and evolution, worlds teetering on the brink of mutation, lands exploding with life. Amongst the skilled gastronomes of the primeval soup are Romanian Ion Popescu Gopo, through his character “Little Man”, Caroline Leaf, and her fine animation of sand, and Frenchman Rene Laloux (La Planete Sauvage, Gandahar).
In this sequence life begins in a Coca Cola Bottle, thus pricking American consumerism and arrogance – that the world begins and ends in the United States – with an outrageous and delightful mischief. Of course it also serves as a symbol of Fantasia giving birth to Allegro Non Troppo. It is this cheek and devil-may-care joie de vivre that makes Allegro Non Troppo – quickly but not too much – such fun. In fact Bozzetto forged a career in large part on the reappropriation of American genre stereotypes. His first film was a spoof of Westerns called West and Soda. His second, VIP My Brother Superman, took off, and took off from, American Superhero conventions.
The other sequence worthy of particular praise is that of the cat, scrawny and bereft. Jean Sibelius’ plaintive Valse Triste accompanies the pet’s meanderings, hopping dolefully through the empty rooms of his owners’ home. These spaces are as the deserted chambers of his heart, where ghosts flicker briefly into life to elicit a smile that lasts a crotchet, a beat and no more. This haunting and the idea of it being the mind’s projection as much as an inhabitation, recalls the section Magnetic Rose from Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories.
The art of wedding animation to pre-chosen music is fraught with danger. The visual text can easily meld meekly into the grain. For all that the music is so recognisable, Allegro Non Troppo skips effortlessly past such traps, breathing new life into time-honoured favourites grown dull with familiarity.
There are live-action segments, or interludes, just as there were in Fantasia. In the grand tradition that began with Emile Cohl and passed through Mary Poppins, Twilight of the Cockroaches and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, there are brief moments where the animated and the ‘real’ live side by side.
I think in Allegro Non Troppo one feels particularly strongly that animation is a dream place, perhaps the epitome of Hollywood itself. You step through the looking-glass to get there.
Watch the Bolero sequence here: