Carlos Osuna's Fat, Bald, Short Man occupies a rare space in animated, feature-length cinema. Much like similarly-pitched works such as Mary and Max, Persepolis, and Fantastic Planet, it's a cartoon with adults in mind, one that seeks to grab viewers with an emotional maturity beyond what is normally forwarded within the medium. But what distinguishes the film from those mentioned above is how easily its screenplay could have been filmed using live actors, such is the quiet, observational quality of the writing and the reality explored within the piece. Basically, Osuna's made an animated film steeped in the cinema of the social outcast, somewhere along the lines of Punch Drunk Love or James Mangold's excellent 1995 film Heavy.
The story here revolves around Antonio Farfan (Álvaro Bayona), a lonely, middle-aged man working in a notary's office. He lives by himself, has little connection with his co-workers, and only hears from his verbally-abusive brother when he wants to borrow money. Out of the blue, there's a regime change at his workplace. The new boss, who bears a strong resemblance to Antonio, befriends him. At the same time, Antonio comes to the aid of an elderly neighbor in need. These changes, along with being talked into joining a small group for shy folks at a local self-help center, slowly begin opening him up to new avenues of being.
Fat, Bald, Short Man is a film that understands that the safety of routine is often what keeps us from moving forward. Antonio's plight isn't so much that he is incapable of living a full life; it's that he believes himself to be no more than what he is in the present, cringing against the possibility of rejection to the point of rejecting possibilities. What we have here is a simple and universal tale rendered in a medium most often associated with telling fart jokes to kids (see most modern Disney works for further reference). Hopefully, audiences will be able to look past their preconceptions about what animated features can be and end up embracing it for the nuanced and mature work that it is.
Fat, Bald, Short Man screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Wednesday, August 15th at 7pm. More info available here.
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