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Rocks in My Pockets

Wednesday 16 September 2015, by Ryan Ormonde

Signe Baumane’s Rocks in My Pockets is a magic realist cartoon, revelatory in its examination of the repercussions and repetitions of mental illness within a genealogy. The hand-drawn animation is flat, jerky and superimposed onto footage of gloomy papier-mâché sets painted in bold colours. Fluidity of movement takes second place to the power of transformation as humans repeatedly change into monstrous or animal versions of themselves, illustrating social and psychological tensions. The huge and intimidating legs of a psychotherapist are visible under her desk until, towards the end of the scene, the proportions switch and her legs are dwarfed by her upper body.

The characters in the film are mute, but Baumane’s own expressive narration holds our attention, an expository style which brings to mind autobiographical trends in live art and that genre’s appropriation of lecturing and storytelling. Baumane’s honesty is a key to her creative process, here she writes about the impetus for Rocks in My Pockets: “The very idea of making a film on depression happened one November day in 2010 when I was struggling through another bout of obsessive thoughts of self-elimination. I started to write down the different scenarios of how I would not commit suicide (I am very finicky and controlling about those matters). Written down, those thoughts became absurd, funny and harmless. It occurred to me that other people might relate to this thought process and might find it amusing and disarming to hear them aloud. I then asked myself where these thoughts might come from, and the whole story started pouring out of me”. Baumane’s questioning of the root of her own depression leads her to an inquiry into her grandmother’s death. In trying to construct a full portrait of her grandmother, the stories of other Latvian relatives are told in a matter-of-fact style that recalls the prose of Gertrude Stein and shares her curiosity in how personal identities are formed.

Animation is a famously labour-intensive process and it’s nearly impossible for an auteur-animator to produce a feature length film in which the artistry of the medium is fully realised. In its stripped down approach to movement and its commitment to the imaginative potential of language and drawing, Rocks in My Pockets is a fully realised work of art on its own terms, feminist and fearless in its exploration of histories and minds.

Dir., Signe Baumane 2014

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