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Euronews Culture's Film of the Week: 'Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light'

Tony, Shelly And The Magic Light - Annecy Animation Film Festival
Tony, Shelly And The Magic Light - Annecy Animation Film Festival Copyright nutprodukcia
Copyright nutprodukcia
By David Mouriquand
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A stop-motion standout of this year's Annecy Animation Film Festival, one to keep a close eye on.

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A highlight of this year’s Annecy Animation Film Festival could be found in the Contrechamp competition: illustrator Filip Pošivač’s film Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light.

The Czech director’s debut feature, written by Jana Šrámková, is a lovingly crafted stop-motion puppet film that enchants from the very first frame.

It focuses on Tony, a lonely 11-year-old boy who spends a lot of his time wearing gloves and a panoply of kooky masks. Not for giggles, mind you. He glows and has been radiating a beautiful golden light since birth. This difference means that he isn’t allowed to go outside to play in the park with the other children, as his intensely protective parent’s fear for his health. They keep him figuratively and literally tethered to their home with a reverse Ariadne thread (the ancient Greek myth of Theseus is even read out at one point by Tony’s father): a red rope that only allows Tony to explore the central staircase of their building.

Things change as Christmas approaches. A mysterious young girl named Shelly moves into the building, accompanied by her glamorous but sullen mother, an ex-ballerina who constantly relocates due to her depression. 

Shelley stands out from the others, specifically the Veruca Salt reminiscent brat Ernestine who lives in the building and who's a chip off the old bullying block. Blessed with an active imagination, Shelly is also armed with a flashlight which appears to vibrantly project the way she wishes to see the world onto the drab reality that surrounds her.

Together, Tony and Shelly will embark on an adventure (mostly set within the confines of their building) in order to uncover a dark force that consumes light and preys on the morale of their neighbours.

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Tony and Shelly on their den adventuresnutprodukcia

The stop-motion animation team has excelled here, with every scene bursting to life with enchanting flourishes. Whether it’s the mysterious tufts of darkness that mysteriously populate the building (and grow to become a distant cousin to the smoke monster in Lost), Tony’s Tardis-like pillow fort that feels like something Michel Gondry could have conjured in a fever dream, or the flowers growing out of the elderly caretaker’s shoulders, reminding you that he is not long for this world, every tender detail draws the spectator further into this world.

To the film’s credit (and the inventive script by Šrámková), the world’s logic is never spoon-fed to the audience. The day-to-day rationale of what we see gradually builds to make perfect sense, revealing a coherent vision that never falters. The light and dark motif throughout the film works wonders and bolsters the film’s principal theme about the corrosive nature of anger and resentment. Interweaved within this are meditations on the importance of imagination, something which the adults have grown out of – or worse, forgotten altogether. The focus may be on the children, but the adults in their lives are reminders that with age and the tribulations of everyday life comes a gradual myopia and a capacity to give into frustration. Something which dims, if not extinguishes a person’s ability to look beyond the tip of their nose, and with it lose a sense of tolerance.

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Tony, Shelly And The Magic Lightnutprodukcia

Most of all though, the film shines as a poetic ode to difference and how embracing one's uniqueness unveils untapped courage - an invincible calm in the midst of chaos, an invincible summer in the midst of winter, to paraphrase Camus. And with that courage comes self-affirmation in the connections we forge, leading to a dialogue between generations that bypasses didacticism and blinkered dogmatism in the name of protection, only to be replaced by acceptance.

As worthy as these themes may be, it’s very hard to let any cynicism slip through the cracks when faced with Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light. You emerge from its world filled with light and a renewed faith that it might all be alright in the end. That’s the magic of stop-motion. That's the magic waiting in forgotten lights.

Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light screened at this year's Annecy Animation Film Festival.

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