A beautiful and intimate animated feature by Ann Marie Fleming, ‘Window Horses’ might prove to be a tough sell commercially, but it’s sure to be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates the subtle side of the art form.
The film is about stick figure named Rosie Ming (Sandra Oh), who Fleming has used as an avatar for herself since her early short films. Ming is a twenty-something poet and fast food worker who has never left Canada, but unexpectedly gets an opportunity to fly to Iran to enter a poetry festival. She’s apprehensive at first and is unsure how anyone even found her work. However, she decides to make the trip anyway, and the Iranian/Chinese young woman gradually comes to embrace and accept her heritage over the course of the journey. It’s safe to say that a cultural awakening at an Iranian poetry festival isn’t exactly an easy sell for mainstream audiences, but the picture has beauty, warmth and power that make it a vital and invigorating viewing experience.
The poetry festival brings out a cast of more colorful and intriguing characters, from Don McKellar’s oddball German poet to Iranian film stars Payman Moaadi (‘A Separation’) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (‘House of Sand and Fog’) as thoughtful guides for the young protagonist. The main narrative is played out in a simple and cartoonish style by Fleming, telling an intriguing tale of a young woman slowly learning about her gift as a writer and her heritage as a Persian. Whenever backstories or works of various poets are explored, the animation style shifts into far different and more expressive forms. These sections were produced by guest directors and bring the movie to life with the limitless aesthetic and artistic possibilities of the medium. The result is a visual feast all too easy to get lost within, ever surprising, ever changing, ever experimental, and always moving.
Despite the gorgeous visual abstraction and experimentation on display, the narrative is ultimately rather simple. ‘Window Horses’ is about growth and a personal epiphany that resonates deeply when it arrives. The story is centered on a beautiful message about how humans across cultures are surprisingly similar and how poetry can communicate across time and space. The poetic animated interludes add humor, horror and layered meanings to the simpler central structure that resonates deeply.
Despite the clear ambitions and pretensions of the film, ‘Window Horses’ proves to be surprisingly accessible and moving, sure to please viewers of all ages willing to embrace the unique journey that Fleming gently pulls audiences through in her distinctly personal style. It’s a beautiful little movie worth seeking out amongst a sea of far louder and more obvious animated films that manage a fraction of Fleming’s beautiful intent. Hopefully it won’t disappear. Viewers deserve more of this artistically ambitious style of animation, even if the audience for such projects seems distressingly smaller with each passing day.