Some seven years ago, we presented a classic underground short film, Suzan Pitt's Asparagus (1979), as our Short Film of the Month for February 2010 with a simple narrative of the when and where we first saw it. It was not our intention to write a critique or a review; we simply wanted to convey the moment when that short stole our heart and, likewise, throw in a few off-the-wall details to unsettle and/or annoy the reader. (Anyone for "a young virgin who shaved once or twice a week at most"?)
And three years later, in 2013, we actually seemed to annoy someone: yet another person who, as so often nowadays, lacked the balls, shaved or not, to use their real name — yes, we're talking about you, "Anonymous" — and was more interested in what they thought should be said than what the writer wanted to say.
And so they spleened, indefinite and oddly chosen pronouns and all, in those pre-Trump days: "It is strange how badly the internet has damaged critical thinking. Perhaps it is its nature, preventing considered reflection prior to posting babble before the author forgets what tiny thought just flashed through its [sic] brain.
"This is a somewhat uncomfortable film, I believe intentionally, compelling the viewer to resist and retreat from organic engagement while at the same time remaining visually focussed. The deliberately paced motion, although possibly an unintended result of the obviously painstaking production technique, gives a sense of trance.
"I enjoy it, knowing it will be over soon."
While we can possibly see whence Anonymous's end reaction — "I enjoy it, knowing it will be over soon" — to the film came, particularly if one is of the kind that finds stuff like Magritte's or Dali's paintings as just too weird, we also tend to think that if the above was indeed the intention of the filmmaker, then for the most part Asparagus is a failure. (Organic engagement was and is paramount, in our case; the short even increases ours as it progresses. Furthermore, for all that which is surreal or strange in the short, nothing is actually disturbing enough to be labeled as "uncomfortable". At least not in our book; more gentle souls might disagree.)
Nevertheless, when we stumbled upon this month's Short Film the other day, Anonymous's well-written second paragraph actually came to mind: it is 100% applicable to Ego zhena kuritsa / Hen, His Wife, this truly odd animated short made by Igor Kovalyov almost two decades ago in what was then the Soviet Union.
This 13-minute animation, while engaging, is disquieting enough that one looks forward to its end even as one remains transfixed by what transpires. We would not advise watching it on acid, for though beautifully drawn and narratively intriguing, it is also queerly disturbing on the visual, emotional, and intellectual levels. The interplay of the repulsive aspects with attractive ones induces an indeed odd "organic" experience, as although the viewer ends up being seduced by the very repulsiveness that makes the short so striking, the viewer also never truly stops feeling repelled. Not that anything is truly repulsive here: it is far more simply disquiting.
Like Asparagus, Hen, His Wife leaves much opportunity for interpretation, arguably even more so than in the older film; and like the older film, much that seems to infer intention or possible interpretation nevertheless also remains enigmatic despite the overt feeling of both symbolic significance and visual purpose.
The basic setup is simple: An anthropomorphic hen housewife lovingly, hectically, tends to her ill, blue-headed husband in an apartment they share with their pet, an oversized, hybrid centipede with human head. Their tranquil life takes a turn for the worse when they receive an unexpected visit from a dichotomous "friend" who sows the seeds of discontent…
The Full Short: