Alois Nebel: Toronto Film Review

A Czech film brings startling images to the screen via rotoscope animation.

Czech animator Tomás Lunák uses a rotoscoping technique to give visual brio to this melancholy tale of a lonely railway station dispatcher

TORONTO — The rotoscope animation in Tomás Lunák’s Alois Nebelis a sheer wonder. Everything is in black and white but there’s a gray to it as well, giving the screen a sense of ominous foreboding. The setting is an isolated Czech train station nestled in a forest in the mountainous region along the border with Germany and Poland. Somehow this young filmmaker, using the rotoscoping technique, manages to imbue his images with a feeling of melancholia and dread at the same time.

Toronto International Film Festival 

Ultimately, the film may delve into too much specific Czech history and central European psychology to travel beyond those territories to other than film festivals. But Alois Nebelis a bracing experience for those who want animation to be more than 3D superheroics and anthropomorphic animal stories.

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Obviously, with this sort of animation, actors do play roles albeit somewhat removed from the screen as animators trace over their images. Nevertheless actor Miroslav Krobot, in the title role, contributes significantly to this film as his middle-aged, wrinkled face, locked in a permanent scowl, is an existential visage worthy of Beckett. He is resigned to a life of dreariness and loneliness.

A dispatcher at this rural station, his life is all routine. Yet it’s 1989 and the fall of Berlin Wall fills the radio even as he hears about a mysterious stranger who crossed the nearby border a night before. Perhaps this is what triggers memories of tragic events that transpired at the end of World War II.

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The dreamlike quality of the film makes its storytelling often oblique but Alois apparently suffers a mental breakdown, which lands him in a sanatorium. His job is gone when he emerges, but he does find hope with the appearance of a woman.

The glory of the film lies not in its story but rather in its atmosphere and imagery, in a man being chased at night through the forest by men and dogs, in rains that pelt the valley, the swelling river that overflows its banks, a tree that crashes on the rail tracks and the events that finally do shake up Alois Nebel’s life.

Alois Nebelis a film to watch for at upcoming festivals and Tomás Lunák is a name to remember in the future.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival

Production companies: Negativ Film Productions/Pallas Film/Tobogang/Ceská televise/UPP/Soundsquare

Cast: Miroslav Krobot, Marie Ludviková, Karel Roden, Leos Noha, Alois Svehlik.

Director: Tomás Lunák.

Screenwriters: Jaromir 99, Jaroslac Rudis.

Producers: Pavel Strnad, Karl Baumgartner, Thanassis Karathanos, Henrich Drzlak.

Director of photography: Jan Baset Stritezsky.

Production designer: Henrich Boraros.

Music: Petr Kruzik.

Costume designer: Katarina Hollá.

Editor: Petr Riha.

Sales: The Match Factory.

No rating, 84 minutes.