By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Georgi Gospodinov’s “The Physics of Sorrow” is animated by Theodore Ushev (best known for Blind Yaysha), and this director/artist’s approach is hauntingly beautiful. It made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 5-15, 2019) and is produced by the National Film Board of Canada. I suspect this animated short will have a few more cinematic screenings before becoming available online. I recommend the big screen version because of the artistry put into the work.
The encaustic-painting technique uses heated beeswax with colour pigments imbued into it and the paint is then applied to a surface. This style is not as commonly used today, and for anyone wanting their work to stand out, they might use it. The medium was more commonly used during the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It only fell into decline after the Byzantine period. During their occupation of Egypt, it was also used in funerary art. A nice trick to keep the substance molten is to have a heat gun nearby (or torches back then) and advance the necessary areas with a soft brush. A thick coat is not needed unless one is making a statue.
Unlike the book which is very labyrinthine in its structure, the short is far more accessible. Familiar music like Men Without Hats “Safety Dance” is used to great effect not only in meaning but also in getting me to empathize with the narrator’s pain as he searches for the meaning of life. We also hear “Shitty City” performed by Yesterday’s Fire, “Hungarian Quick March,” and “Fuga.” To hear David Bowie over the end credits was a bit of a surprise, but it worked.
The story tracks an unknown man’s hero’s journey as he talks about memories of circuses, bubble-gum wrappers, first crushes, and his time with the army. He left communist Bulgaria in hopes for a better life in Canada. I get the sense he is a hobo, traveling various railway lines as he struggles to find a place to belong.
The melancholic delivery by Rossif Sutherland (son of the famous Donald) shows the struggle is real (to note, the original French-language version is narrated by Xavier Dolan and his father Manuel Tadros). Even Don makes a cameo voice appearance. Just as this tale is about father-son relationships, so are the talents involved to give credence to this work. Those connections made me sad; it made me recall those stories my parents told me of the hard life they had in China before coming to Canada. To work hard and establish new roots was tough. Not many work impresses me on a personal level, but this one did. Even Ushev said that this work was his most personal to date.