Underground Film Journal

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Animated Short Film: Mermaid

By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 20, 2011

Douglas Sirk meets Jean Painlevé in Lisa Barcy‘s fishy melodramatic love story Mermaid, in which a married marine biologist begins a torrid affair with one of the sea’s most monstrous creations: The giant squid! But, can man and mollusca live in romantic bliss, especially under the suspicious eye of a spurned human female?

The dramatic opening music perfectly sets the tone for a film that’s at turns heartbreaking and hilarious. And the gags all come from a very well-thought out, logical place, which serves to highlight the absurdity of the situation. For example, the old “lipstick on the collar” gag from the time period this film evokes is updated to “Uh oh, I hope my wife doesn’t notice these giant sucker welts all over my body,” which truly would be a legitimate concern if this were a true story.

Man hugging a giant squid

Using a logical approach to the humor grounds the film with a certain realism. Plus, although animated, the lovestruck squid is represented very realistically and isn’t cartoon-y at all. There’s even a brief segment in the opening that gives us a detailed examination of squid biology. That grounding really pushes the film’s dramatic flair over its more fantastical elements. Also, Barcy doesn’t call special attention to her jokes — which are both both visual and situational –but instead lays them out expecting her audience to find them. In that regard, there’s also a certain Billy Wilder quality to the film as well.

The animation technique is very intriguing, too, combining puppetry of the characters with a shifting sand animation for the backgrounds. The characters, while having very distinctive outlines and features, are see-through so that one can see those backgrounds right through them, giving the film a semi-ethereal quality. Also nice is when elements are placed in the foreground, kind of like a picture frame or a proscenium curtain, which is a particularly fun effect during the underwater tango sequence towards the end.

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