Sad Beauty nominated at Raindance
15 September 2020
Humans as bacteria
Arjan Brentjes' highly prescient (and somewhat germane) Sad Beauty is a tale of a pandemic and environmentalism, and is nominated for Best Animation Short at Raindance 2020, an Academy Award and BAFTA qualifying festival.
Sad Beauty is both tragic and melancholic, yet oddly optimistic, in telling the story of our species' demise. In the film, a bacterium is killing off the world's population of humans at an industrial rate, we hear in daily news bulletins. Pollution is rife and all the time men in white overalls and masks are removing the dead and poorly from the streets.
A female scientist, meanwhile, is studying the bacteria in a petri dish. She is obviously an environmentalist, as suggested by her walking against the flow of faceless (and dwindling) pedestrians on a pavement. But her love for, and attempt to understand, nature won't necessarily protect her from the disease that is wreaking havoc across the planet...
The story arc - that of a woman who loves a nature "that doesn't necessarily love her back" - was set in stone in Autumn 2019, Brentjes says. He adds how the subsequent Covid-19 pandemic worked in the film's favour, not only because it added piquancy to the overall tale and its visual presentation, but in offering the time and space for Brentjes to complete it without distraction.
But what gave him the idea for his tale in the first place?
"It was the events of 2016/17 that made me lose faith in the progression of humanity," he responds. "You had your Brexit (which in retrospect doesn't seem so bad when you look at what followed in the US), the feeling that we are too late to do something fundamental about the environment and at the same time this political situation where the world is becoming a patchwork of authoritarian regimes. That made me start to slip into a depression."
The modern world, even pre-Covid, all but destroyed his faith either in politics or any global sense of commitment to planetary care, he adds. "So I found consolation in looking at an old tree or beautiful cloud formations, the things that have been around before us and will still be around no matter how badly we screw up nature," Brentjes says.
"If you look at bacteria that have been around for 3.5 billion years. We have been around just a fraction of this time. Now it's like bacteria has caught a case of ‘human' and it will probably find a way to get rid of us. That was the idea and I thought it was interesting to try to challenge the audience to find some form of consolation in the fact that, yes, we are the problem and, yes, the planet will survive."
The film is defined as much by what is left out as is left in, Brentjes points out. He had originally imagined a final shot of the planet sharing screen space with an astronaut helmet containing a human skull, but he reckoned this was too bleak (and too 2001: A Space Odyssey). He also scaled back on portentous and dramatic choral music (although its minimal usage is highly effective). And he cut back on preachy Attenborough-type narration/monologue to make what is effectively a story without words (other than what we hear in news reports), told visually and very economically.
In this he had help from Dutch Oscar-nominated trio Job, Joris and Marieke (A Single Life, 2014). "Especially Marieke, she was an excellent sounding board," says Brentjes. "She could very well envision how something that I wrote would translate to an audience within a final product. She could really help me refine it."
"I made some films in the past that were not very good because I didn't find a solution in time during the process," he adds. "This way, having another professional like just helped me to look at what I was doing, and helped make it work."
For more information:
Contact: Arjan Brentjes
Ph: +31 64137 7094
Sales: SND films
Ph: +31 204040707