Brendan And The Secret Of Kells - Melbourne International Film Festival August 2009
IRELAND/ FRANCE/ BELGIUM
Though a cheerful atheist I still have great artistic respect for the magnificently illustrated Book Of Kells. For me, the twelve hundred year old manuscript is enhanced well beyond its religious origins by the exceptional richness of its illuminations and calligraphy.
One of Ireland’s key national treasures the book is now kept at Dublin’s Trinity College. The circumstances that resulted in the survival of this artistic jewel are obscure, especially since Kells Abbey, where the book was kept and perhaps worked upon, was sacked by Viking raiders in the 10th Century.
Fiction takes root in the cracks of history, which is where director Tomm Moore and his Cartoon Saloon studio plant this perfectly rendered animated feature that sheds its own civilised illumination upon the preservation of the book, taking inspiration from it for the stylised design of the characters and backgrounds.
In a 9th century Abbey, 12 year old novice Monk Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) is entranced by the beauty of the book, carried to Kells by a refugee artist-Brother from another sanctuary already fallen to the sea reivers. Brendan is torn between his desire to work on the unfinished book and his duty to his uncle, Abbot Cellach, who is understandably focused on the Viking threat. Brendan is aided in his quest to keep the light of art shining in the darkness by Master Artist Aiden and his cat, which has a pretentious name and attitude to match, as well as a Puckish forest spirit that can manifest as a white wolf. That last sounds a bit curious in context but this film is inclusive in its acceptance of alternative religious fantasies. It reminds me of some of the more liberal modern Arthurian novels where Christians and ‘Pagans’ coexist in relative, if unlikely, harmony where normally they get on like heretics on fire. Spiritual companionship is not extended to the invaders, who are depicted as looming, brutish monsters, reminding me of similar beasties seen in Genndy Tartakovsky’s classic animated series, Samurai Jack. (Not surprising, if you’ve seen any of Cartoon Saloon’s own children’s TV show, Skunk-Fu.) The Jack comparison can be further worked, as the book’s own illuminations are the inspiration for a serpentine Demonic Dark Power, reminiscent of Jack’s nemesis Aku, cleverly brought to life here as animated Celtic ‘knotwork’ and border designs.
The pitch perfect vocal cast includes Brendan Gleeson, whom genre buffs know as the cab driving survivor in 28 Days Later and also as Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody in Harry Potter.
We’re used to the wonders produced by Studio Ghibli and its kin but it’s cool to discover a new source of high grade storytelling where form and content are so masterfully blended. The beautiful Brendan & The Secret Of The Kells is one of the most illuminating features at the Festival.
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September 21, 2009 at 2:17 pm
Well that certainly was lush. Each screen cap is overwhelming. I think I’ve been trying to write this comment for an hour now.
Your Deleuze quote is delicious. lelangir said it differently, but he and I (and Deleuze apparently) agree that one needn’t look to a ‘deep’ subject the create a deep experience. I can easily have such an experience watching K-ON! as much as anything else.
In the case of this work, could it be that the thematic expression — the real work in it, is intended to reside less in the narrative, but more in the images and their motion? It seems like an obvious point, but I hope you know what I mean.
September 22, 2009 at 5:46 am
Fascinating stuff. I have an amateur interest in illuminated manuscripts, especially the works preserved by Irish monks, so this is definitely something I’ll have to check out.
For a cross-cultural look, have you seen anything done for the Qu’ran? Islam prohibits images of the prophets, so what artists did instead was turn Arabic itself into a work of art– a twisting, complex, utterly beautiful work of art. I recommend looking into it.
September 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm
I think Deleuze’s exact quote is “philosophy needs a non-philosophy that comprehends it”, in this case the characters of the film finds philosophy by interacting with the nature, and not confined to the walls of the abbey. I guess it’s possible to find deep things in just about anything, including K-on!, although different people will get out different things (i.e. I didn’t think much of K-on…)
Yea, it’s much more expressive visually than narrative, although to be honest the story was bit too much lacking imo. Kind of like Ponyo, but in this case it is bit harder to forgive for me. It’s a shame really because it is visually just so strong.
Haha, I’m really surprised that you seem to know a little about everything I touch on, from Deleuze/nietzsche, Tasha. I am aware of the history of Qu’ran but not terribly familiar with the actual images and texts in it.
And yes, I highly recommend checking this film out, especially if you have intersted in illuminated manuscripts =D
September 22, 2009 at 6:45 pm
Just finished this (oh joys of the internet age, that such thing can be readily found) and am very pleased. Personally I was quite happy with the simplistic story structure – although it felt a bit too hard on WallMan at times. I did like Aisling’s retreat from Brendan a great deal – one of those unexplained but utterly right developments.
Anyway, enjoyed your points about intricacy a lot too, and the succession of images from the oak tree scene.
I was thinking that a lot of the moods/places in the film involved heavily dominant colourschemes which, to me at least, mean a very different way of experiencing intricacy from how I imagine staring into depths of colour in the book. Most frames had one scheme going on, and one doesn’t always have time to stare deeply into it to discover the layers, but the animation leads into the next scene in a manner which makes it feel like an exploration of the same scheme. Well, I’m getting a bit incoherent, but this was gorgeous and a very fine recommendation.
September 23, 2009 at 10:12 am
Yay my recommendation worked!
And yea, I love their colour schemes too. Each frame is so well considered, I wish more studios would put more efforts too.
September 24, 2009 at 6:36 pm
I wanted to check this out but the book is $40 on amazon, a bit pricey for my walletbook. Maybe my patience will pay off!
September 24, 2009 at 7:01 pm
I’ve been lurking from time to time as I found out we share some anime titles favs-wise , plus you always write thoughtful commentaries.
I knew nothing of this little jewel of animation, for a medieval fine arts students like me this look like a treat indeed. I’m spamming your post to some pf my friends too XD.
Thank you for blogging!
September 25, 2009 at 7:46 pm
I hope you meant blu-ray disc, because $40 is quite a BARGAIN for the price I’d pay for the real book!
Yay another lurker de-lurking himself ^_^
Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad my posts have been somewhat amusing. Feel free to de-lurk time to time and fill up my lonely comment box =)
September 25, 2009 at 9:33 pm
You’re welcome XD, I bow to your taste and your maind.
Forgive my typos and possibly unclear wording btw, I’m good at drawing but bad at typing. Moreover, English is my secondary language only.
I’ve spotted Fantascope Tylostoma among your recent viewings (review coming about this title too, yes? ). Perfect timing, as I watched 1001 nights yesterday (oh, my, the Gustave Moreau-esque + sprinkling of Disney Fantasia’s sabbath sequence visuals . And a bit of Kanashimi no Belladonna too, especially in the ’simple sketches moving and morphing’ moments)
What a treat.Possibly Even more engaging as I was watching it well after midnight , (a bit of altered… self-awareness(?) helped the mind-trip I guess? I felt like I was being sucked in and dreaming along with the characters, so vividly ^_^;; )
Back to The Secret of Kells. Is indeed visually pleasing and different, chara design – aptily retro – matches backgrounds and Celtic patterns well , plus I love the OST.
I can only hope Buena Vista International is planning for distribution here in Italy (been spamming this movie to my Medieval Archaeology college professor and plan to notify her colleagues too . She’s looking forward to -ahem- sampling it).
Thanks again for blogging and sharing your thoughts with us.
P.S.: I’m a ’she’ XD
September 25, 2009 at 9:42 pm
EDIT: digressing some more on Yoshitaka Amano, I’m being irresistibly drawn to this right now http://anidb.net/perl-bin/animedb.pl?show=anime&aid=6203
. I hope someone will sub it ^^
Does Fantascope Tylostoma feature some dialogue or nothing at all? Just to know if I can watch it raw ^^
September 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm
Altered state is the best state to be in when watching artsy stuff like Fantascope =D. Your body needs to be relaxed, to feel those colours, movements and lines with your body, and just tired enough for your mind to not think too much, untie our way of thinking, and just connect to the imagination.
As for Fantascope, it has lot of dialogues, but I watched it raw anyway. Of course I didn’t understand the details but I think it’s better to watch it raw than not watch it at all!
And I hope your professor and colleagues enjoy the film too. And thank you again for the kind words, really makes my efforts worthwhile!