Saturday, February 6, 2021

Movie with Abe: Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane
Directed by Rémi Chayé
FIAF Animation First Festival

Society creates expectations for people that very often tend to box them in rather than allow them to thrive, and while they do evolve, hopefully in a positive way, over time, that process tends to take considerably longer than it should. Those who seek to define the potential of certain groups or individuals embrace a willful blindness to abilities that may be clearly on display, dismissing unexpected talent or interest as an overreach or challenge to authority that should be quashed rather than encouraged.

In 1863, twelve-year-old Martha Jane Cannary travels west with her family and a group of pioneers. Her father is sick, and she is charged with taking care of her younger siblings Lena and Elijah. She is taunted by the boys in the group for her eagerness to learn things only men are supposed to do, and she clashes with Abraham, the stoic leader of the caravan. When a soldier, Samson, shows up and tells them that they are far off course, Martha befriends him but is soon blamed when he disappears along with many of the pioneers’ possessions, so she sets out to find him and show her true value.

This is a fun and creative look at the origin story of the real-life Calamity Jane, imagining her spirit and determination to be taken seriously at a young age. What she experiences is rather timeless even if such encounters these days wouldn’t take place in covered wagons and involve an act quite as rebellious as a girl wearing pants. This film strongly grounds her motivations and formative time, using the vast backdrop of the unknown terrain to make Martha’s journey all the more enticing, full of adventure and unexpected developments along the way.

It is perhaps a bit jarring to hear this story play out in French since it’s a distinctly American tale, one that makes frequent mention of places like Little Rock and Oregon. Yet that’s surely how many international audiences feel about a large number of stories set in other countries being brought to the screen in English, and there’s really nothing lost in translation here. The illustrations bring the American landscape to marvelous life, highlighting its shapes and colors in a beautiful way. Eighty-two minutes is a perfect length for this Oscar-eligible animated feature that tackles an American legend and creates a fully enthralling, enjoyable experience that should be suitable for all ages.



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