Annecy 2020: The End
17 June 2020
Beginning at The End
Dutch filmmaker Wiebe Bonnema presents his film The End in Graduation Competition at Annecy, the world's leading animation festival.
It was The Good, the Bad and the Ugly which kickstarted Wiebe Bonnema's obsession with westerns. There were the expressionist close-ups, the heat, the pain and uncertainty written large across the faces of the protagonists, the shoot-out. Then came the other films of Sergio Leone, Once Upon A Time in the West, A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars more, and then those of other exponents of the spaghetti western. All characterised by a gunslinger/bounty hunter who, after the final battle, and after the town has been purged of its evil dregs of humanity, rides off into the wide and sandy yonder as the credits roll.
But these films offered up something else to Bonnema, something specific to his sense of cinematic aesthetic. The idiosyncratic animated opening credit sequences, accompanied by jangly guitar, may have been a distraction to many viewers over the years, but for the young filmmaker they distilled the essence of what was to follow over the next two hours in terms of style, exposition and pure entertainment.
In The End Bonnema embraces this sub-genre and asks a fundamental question. Where does the gunslinger go after the end titles have run their course? Especially if, as in this case, he has fought his final fight, cleaned up his last town.
In the film, the words ‘The End' appear, post-shoot-out. But after they fade away, the cowboy keeps riding and riding...and riding, out into the desert towards the place where the sky meets the horizon, on his trusty steed, in the heat of the sun.
"It is one of my favourite western movie clichés, when the guy just rides away into an empty landscape. I find it a most beautiful image, so romantic," says the Bonnema, who is also a scholar of western lore. He cites George Stevens' Shane (1953) in which the eponymous hero can only remove the threat of future violence within a town by physically leaving it. In The Searchers John Wayne knows he will never be part of the family and that if he remains he will only bring more misery, and therefore departs alone, Bonnema adds. "So there is always some kind of sacrifice on the part of the gunslinger/cowboy as he goes away."
But there is something altogether more mythical going on as well, he adds. "The cowboy is an embodiment of the wilderness itself and literally comes out of it at the beginning and returns to it at the end." (It is no surprise therefore to hear that the film was selected for the Almeria Western Film Festival 2019, located close to the desert where Sergio Leone shot his masterpieces.)
Bonnema tells how, a few years ago, he visited a Mark Rothko exhibition in The Netherlands, an experience which proved both instructive and informative. He had heard about the hypnotic, meditative effects that immersing yourself into a Rothko painting could induce, but there were too many people in the gallery trying to experience the same thing, so the director was forced to give up.
So he transferred this right of access instead to the hero of his film. The canvas upon which the action is played out, therefore, resembles a Rothko, a bifurcated screen, yellow sky above and a red desert below, a heat haze blurring the join, vast and eternal.
Against such a backdrop the rider's purpose takes on even greater and more noble significance, and the effect is, if you pause the image long enough (which one can do when viewing via a streaming platform), just as mesmeric for the viewer.
"You can imagine that the cowboy is some kind of Viking warrior, not going to Valhalla by dying in a glorious battle but by winning in a gunfight and then riding off into the horizon," says Bonnema. "That it is a cowboy way of getting to heaven."
For more information:
Annecy Animation Film Festival and Market: www.annecy.org
Artez University of the Arts
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