Screened at a variety of global festivals before seeing a limited release in 2020, Anca Damian’s Marona’s Fantastic Tale (L’extraordinaire voyage de Marona) is unlike anything I’ve seen so far this year. The story itself is fairly simple: a dog, in the process of dying, recounts its life from pre-conception to present. What makes Marona not only aestheticly beautiful, but poignant and moving, is the blending of a variety of art styles to bring it all to life. Unlike 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose which uses real dogs to trend upon a similar narrative road, Marona is entirely animated, allowing for forms of expression that enable the imagination to wander while the film tugs at our hearts. As all good pets are wont to do, Marona’s Fantastic Tale rebukes societal rules of form, carving out something entirely unique unto itself.
As a populace, we have a tendency to misplace our happiness by giving an inordinate amount of psychological weight to objects, opinions, and success. We tend to think that by owning an object, by making it “ours,” we will somehow become whole. The truth is, we’re just accumulating more things. Similarly, when we dwell on what others think, using their reaction to our pontifications as the barometer of self-actualization, we lose our truths in trying to adapt to their needs, not our own. Lastly, when we fail to identify how to recognize success and leave it to others to determine using some unknown metric, then we’ll never discover peace. These are but a few of the notions that Damian explores via the script written by Anghel Damian throughout Marona. These concerns are universal conflicts but ones which we tend to hesitate in exploring due to a failure in our own ability to handle certain truths about value. However, by placing the perspective of the story upon a dog, suddenly the heady notions are far more palatable and easier to connect with personally. Marona (voiced by Lizzie Brocheré), then, becomes an avatar for the audience’s journey of self-reflection. This comes quietly and with delicate nudging from Damian as Marona’s story starts off innocently enough, but, by the second owner, Istvan (voiced by Thierry Hancisse), the audience comes to realize that we are all Marona: just someone looking to share space, share a meal, and, perhaps, become a part of someone else’s life.
If one were to look at Marona, than happiness is as simple as the song at the end of the film declares it to be, “… saucer of milk, a big wet tongue, a nap, a place to bury a bone, a hand, a smile…”. These are silly, to be sure, but there is an honest simplicity to them as well. Who among us hasn’t longed for companionship, food, and a place to rest? There is nothing wrong with finding strength and comfort in oneself. Marona is not denouncing that, not at all. What the film explores is the social nature of life and how being a part of someone’s life helps offer meaning. Coming from a personal perspective, consider my son, who has just turned five. He doesn’t care what his father does, he only knows that I toil away in my office for half a day and play with him for the other half. He has zero interest nor is he wowed by any of my accomplishments, but he draws energy and excitement from reading, building with a playset, or playing a video game. His joy comes not from whether the slime we try to make actually becomes slime, but in how goopy it is, how vibrant the color, and how neat it is to see it congeal when mixed. Lucky my son is, compared to so many others, but his joy comes from being with his family and playing, what he calls, “rock scissors paper Pac-Man shoe.” (He means “shoot,” but it’s adorable and you better not correct him.) Through Marona’s adventures, each of her owners struggle with a version of what we all struggle with: a sense of personal peace. Marona sees this conflict and, though she cannot identify with it, she does come to understand it. Despite existing with a constant sense that one day she will be let go, she remains forever in love with each of her owners. There’s something to that, I think. It’s not that Marona, being a dog, loves unconditionally, but, as an avatar for life itself, when one longs for nothing more complex than food and a home, there is no pain which cannot go unforgiven.
Compelling as the theme of Marona is, it’s the enthralling design of the world which keeps the audience enchanted. Composer Pablo Pico, graphic concept consultant and character designer Brecht Evens, and background artists Gine Thorstensen and Sarah Mazetti, craft sights and sounds that are utterly unique from each other in each segment, yet retain a kind of strange hegemony. Pico’s score oscillates between something light and playful as the audience is introduced to Marona, first called Nine, as a puppy, before it shifts to something cosmic and dreamy as Marona, then called Ana, comes to know her first owner, the acrobat Manole (voiced by Bruno Salomone). The music shifts and changes depending on the personality of the owner, while also maintaining the playfulness and slight innocence of the original music from the beginning. This is Marona’s story, after all, and her demeanor rarely changes, eternally optimistic by nature, even in the most pessimistic times. Maintaining the notion that the entire film is from Marona’s perspective enables Evens, Thorstensen, and Mazetti creative license with the entirety of the film. It appears almost entirely hand-drawn, yet nothing is necessarily uniform in style, but is representative of the personalities of the people as understood by Marona. For this reason, Manole is comprised of two colors: red and yellow. The yellow makes up the physical form, while the red makes up the stripes of his outfit and makes up the negative space to create the outline of hair, feet, hands, and face, the red stripes moving independently from Manole depending on his frame of mind and his activity. For instance, while walking home inebriated, the lines of his clothes struggle to stay on his form, wiggling about like waving tentacles. Other times, as when he performs, they become like ribbons, trailing him as he moves. The simple and expressionistic design makes sense for a character like Manole, whereas Istvan is more rigid in design to denote his personality as an architect. Drawn as a large man with blue skin, a purple outline lending to distinct section of a body, the art design once more speaks volumes as to the type of person he is: highly structured, yet creative. One of the true benefits of watching Marona from home versus the theater is that you have the ability to pause the film to explore the richly designed background and examine the hidden depths of Thorstensen’s and Mazetti’s respective work. This is not a flat world, but one designed with an expressive personality befitting an adventure of the soul.
It’s easier for me to be carried away by Marona’s tale, not just because I’m a sucker for sweet stories, but Marona’s story reminds me so greatly of my own dog, Kaylee. A rescue we stumbled upon, she wasn’t even three-months old when we brought her home, and she would follow me everywhere, often being my only source of company during the work day whether working in my bedroom office or, once moved, into my own room. Since her injury in 2016, she doesn’t get upstairs anymore and her absence is felt constantly. Watching Marona, I couldn’t help but weep being so drawn in by the sorrow of Marona being lost, rescued, lost again, and found, all while heading toward a tragic inevitably, yet thinking of our Kaylee, sitting alone downstairs wondering where we are. In this regard Anghel’s script, Damian’s direction, and Brocheré’s performance are so utterly transportive that it made me turn inward even as the film pulled me outward. Told brilliantly in its mix of animation, music, and performance, there is truly nothing to weep over within Marona’s Fantastic Tale as it is one of love and joy. Though its sadnesses do repeat, as in life, they are but temporary and do pass.
Available in virtual cinemas beginning June 12th, 2020.
Head to the official Marona’s Fantastic Tale to find a virtual cinema available to you.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.