Thursday 30 January 2014

Recipe for Love (2012)

Director: Gwyneth Christoffel
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
It's impossible to see everything at the Phoenix Film Festival and I wasn't able to get to the High School Shorts selection this year. I realised in November just what I'd missed when I saw Jordan Wippell's Rain Dog at the University of Advancing Technology's annual digital video festival. Also represented at both events was filmmaker Gwyneth Christoffel, as Recipe for Love played the former and A Purrfect Pair the latter. While both were high school students when they made the films selected for Phoenix, Christoffel is now studying at UAT and Wippell will be in 2014. What surprises me here isn't that UAT has snagged another couple of talented filmmakers, but that their work is rather unlike what UAT has become known for over the last few years. The best recent UAT films, like Fallout, Covet and Red Sand, not to mention their viral Star Wars Bohemian Rhapsody video or the hilarious Flight of the Melvin, tend to be action or sci-fi with powerful effects. Even a drama like Screaming in Silence benefitted from its effects work.

By comparison, at least from what I've seen thus far, Wippell and Christoffel have completely different styles and I'm fascinated to see how they will influence UAT's output over the next few years. Gwyneth Christoffel in particular is light years away from the sort of films I mentioned, focusing instead on cute animations that quickly conjure up smiles from the audience and maintain them long after their credits roll. More sentimental viewers will ooh and aah frequently, even though the progression of their stories is completely obvious from moment one. A Purrfect Pair saw a cat and dog falling in love at the Claws & Paws Animal Clinic; Recipe for Love follows an anthropomorphic cupcake who doesn't want to be alone any more, so finds a novel way to meet a soulmate. Clearly neither is based on a videogame franchise and it really doesn't matter. They're cute and cuddly bundles of animated joy that are surely impossible to dislike. We don't need to be Japanese schoolgirls to want to hug them.
If their greatest success is their ability to make any day a good one, their greatest failure is in providing some sort of depth to proceedings. However there are little details in both films that leap out to suggest that depth may well be on the way in future films. A Purrfect Pair could be interpreted as a counter to Dr Peter Venkman's hypothesis that cats and dogs living together would be accompanied by mass hysteria as a 'disaster of biblical proportions'. Recipe for Love is even more of a plea for tolerance, with what has to be a multiracial cupcake relationship. I wonder if the Production Code would have allowed such overt miscegenation! Surely such behaviour would lead to a disaster of biblical proportions with cats and dogs living together and... Clearly our pink heroine's dream of companionship is merely piqued by seeing the salt and pepper shaker couple, but is enforced by watching a glass of milk and a cookie holding hands. This scene could easily have become pornographic, but Christoffel keeps it safely PG.

If I recall correctly, A Purrfect Pair was made using standard animation techniques, but Recipe for Love uses stop motion. Not all the lighting is pristine, but that's a minor concern. We watch our cupcake run through the script with a sense of style, which is a surprising amount for a creation of pipecleaners and plasticine, and the animator's hands are neatly out of frame throughout. Some of the set ups required imagination to succeed and Christoffel thankfully delivered, like the oven shot, conquered with a piece of red string, and the electric hand mixer scene, which is turned into a hilarious rodeo performance. I was smiling throughout the picture anyway but it was here that I laughed out loud. Clearly going splat wouldn't have been the right ending for the tone, but I learned with this film that cupcakes don't bruise. That may save my life someday. We're given precisely the right ending for the tone, naturally, as clear and inevitable as it was from the outset. This is hardly essential stuff but it's delightful nonetheless.

Recipe for Love can be viewed for free at YouTube.

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