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Monday, 22 January 2007

Harpya (1979) Raoul Servais

I'd never even heard of Raoul Servais until his name popped up on the excellent blog Bibi's Box, but I followed the links and downloaded some short films and instantly became a fan. He's a Belgian animator who is far from prolific, with only 14 films to his name in 42 years, but I'm well aware that lack of output can often equate to higher overall quality. Harpya is only eight and a half minutes long but it won the Golden Palm for best short in 1979. I'm well aware that animation can often get very strange indeed but this definitely ranks up there.

An unnamed man dressed in Victorian garb saves a harpy from being throttled to death, and takes it home to safety. He seems the epitome of genorosity and understanding, caring for the strange bare breasted creature with wings for arms, but the harpy soon makes his life a misery by stealing all his food. Then again that's what harpies do, right? That's why the gods sent them to torture Phineas. When he tries to escape the harpy eats his legs.

If there's a message here it has to be something about being aware of who you help out, because your actions might just come back to bite you on the ass. That's hardly a standard cinematic message but I guess it has decent validity. It could be taken as advice simply not to mess around with harpies, but how many of those were flying around in 1970s Belgium I really don't know. Besides, I'd learned that much from classical studies class way back when. At the end of the day, though I'm sure I'm not the only one misunderstanding the point, as IMDb recommends that if I like this I should try Kindergarten Cop. Erm...

The animation is fascinating. While I've seen plenty of animated shorts, I don't know enough about the history of animation to know where these techniques fit into the timeframe of the medium but this one mixes live action with animation very well indeed. The hero looks pretty good wandering around on his hands because he no longer has legs, for instance. The harpy herself, played by Fran Waller Zeper, looks the part and wouldn't be out of place in a Tool video. I'll definitely be following up on this one with more of Raoul Servais's work.

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