Kitchen Sink Absurdity

INTERVIEW. Helena Frank's short film "Heavy Heads" merges social issues with distorted animation reality.

In the drab kitchen of a tiny apartment sits a lonely middleaged woman, Monika, whose tired physique and drooping lips testify to a joyless life in loneliness. Her only company is a hungry fly, which, by strategically placing bits of meatballs up her inner thigh, she can trick into servicing her sexually. In her misery, Monika actually has more or less everything she needs. She has learned to accommodate. Though she isn't happy, she is afraid of change. So it is that she immediately turns away the wayward neighbour who stumbles into her apartment instead of his own.

I was trying to find a way to visualise the concept of being trapped inside yourself and pretty quickly came up with the idea of the heads.

I was trying to find a way to visualise the concept of being trapped inside yourself and pretty quickly came up with the idea of the heads.

The film takes its title from the abnormally large heads of Monika and her male guest. The director is Helena Frank, who graduated last summer from the animation programme at the National Film School of Denmark. Heavy Heads is her graduation film. After four and a half years of creative training, Frank is basking in the warm glow of having her film selected for Berlinale Shorts, where it will be competing for the prestigious Golden Bear.

To nurture the artistic development of its students, the National Film School has a general policy barring student films from participating at festivals. Participating at Berlin is Frank's first big step into the world. She is no stranger to recognition, though: Heavy Heads took home the animation talent prize at the Odense Film Festival last August.

"Of course, I hope the screening in Berlin will open up to other festivals, so it will have legs on the festival scene. Otherwise, the options for shorts are obviously pretty limited," the director says.

A Tale of Loneliness 

Frank's reasons for making animation her medium of expression have nothing to do with a childhood spent idolising Disney or Miyazaki. In fact, she is not even particularly interested in animation as such.

"What interests me about the animation format is how it can be explored and used in a million different ways. It can be really extreme. But then again, mastering the extreme is what I like. Heavy Heads is a story about loneliness, a universal condition we can all relate to, in various ways. But over-sizing the heads gives the film an edge I couldn't have achieved in any other format, and that's what I love about animation."

What exactly was the concept behind the big heads?

"I was trying to find a way to visualise the concept of being trapped inside yourself and pretty quickly came up with the idea of the heads. I think it encapsulates a kinds of introversion, of having no one to share your thoughts with, and so it felt natural to let the heads grow."

Using caricature to describe serious issues?

"Exactly. It's not interesting for me to do characters that can do all sorts of crazy things, unless it's anchored in some sort of realism. Otherwise, it doesn't mean anything."

Still a Long Way to go 

Plainly, there's not a lot of children's channel histrionics about Heavy Heads. In general, though adult animation has evolved over the last half decade, it seems to have a long way to go.

"When I started at the Film School five years ago, I figured so much would have happened by the time I graduated that it would be a normal thing for adults to watch feature-length animated films. But with a few exceptions, things have barely moved at all," Frank says.

"Which is pretty strange, actually, considering how much animation people watch in commercials and computer games, where no one has any problem accepting the drawn image. But in feature films there is a barrier."

In fact, Frank is not by definition navigating for the promised land of feature-film directing.

"I have spent the last nine years being educated. Before the National Film School, I took the animation degree at Konstfack in Sweden and with all the training I have, I just want to go out there and try all kinds of things. I'm psyched!"