ROCKS IN MY POCKETS
The first few minutes have a bewildering quality that make you wonder just what it is you are seeing. The animation is of a very limited quality and spells indie animation experiment, which is frequently ends up being a watching chore see Consuming Spirits (2012) for a recent example. There is also Baumanes narration, which comes through an offputtingly thick East European accent where your initial impression is that this is for comic effect before it dawns that the entire film is going to be narrated this way. However, about the point that Baumane tells the story of her grandmother Anna in the forest trying to drown herself and promptly turns around to suggest the way in which she is doing it wrong and the right way to kill oneself (the solution leads to the films title), one is immediately in love with Rocks in My Pockets.
Baumane has described Rocks in My Pockets as a funny film about suicide. She illustrates the stories of her grandfather Indilus and grandmother Anna, two of her aunts and her own struggles with mental illness after being diagnosed and placed in a Soviet hospital before escaping to the US. All of the stories are extraordinary as they are funny Indilus the impractical entrepreneur who spent two years forging Soviet banknotes before realising that he had drawn them wrong; the heartbreaking struggles of her grandmother to carry forty buckets of water a day up the hill for the cows and feed the children on rabbit meat; the stories of the decaying sanity of one aunt who lost her vitality after marrying and the other who became obsessed with marrying to the point of imagining she was engaged to her lodger. In the telling of these, Baumane distils the essence of family tragedies and re-presents them in a way that is cheerfully wry at the same time as the material is cuttingly dark. Some of the observations that Baumane illustrates the way the grandmother Anna goes from discovering the mother rabbit having eaten her own young to finding an epiphany about her motherhood to Baumanes ruminations on the nature of her own suicidal thoughts and depression are chillingly good. Indeed, forget about the absurdity of movie melodrama treatment of mental illness in films like Shine (1996) and A Beautiful Mind (2001), this may be one of the finest films yet that gives a realistic and credible portrait of mental illness.
The nearest equivalent you could find to Rocks in My Pockets might be Marjane Satrapis own animated exorcism of her autobiographical troubles on screen in Persepolis (2007) perhaps a Persepolis that had been turned on its head and given a thorough working over by Bill Plympton. The Plympton influence comes through undeniably in Baumanes artwork. Though the autobiographical material never jumps off into the rampant surrealism of Plymptons work, she follows the same play of incongruous images and juxtapositions in a wholly absurdist manner. Elsewhere, Baumane is not above jumping off into other styles such as the use of papier-mch animation and cardboard model cutouts.
(Screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival)
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2014 list).