With his animated short Memorable, director Bruno Collet aimed to capture dementia, as experienced by an aging painter.
Examining challenges to the artist’s marriage, as his dementia advances, Collet’s film is unlike many explorations of the aging process, in that it wasn’t spurred by personal experience. Instead, it was inspired by the experiences of William Utermohlen, an artist who passed away in 2007.
“William Utermohlen was a painter who had Alzheimer’s disease, and painted self-portraits throughout his life, even when he was very sick. I was really interested in the fact that, for the first time, [with] the painter, we got a glimpse of a real person who was suffering from the disease—not from a person outside,” the director explains. “It’s very touching, because if you look at his paintings, you can really see the evolution of the disease from beginning to end.”
Given his intention of placing viewers inside the perspective of his protagonist, Louis, the visuals of Memorable would inevitably be somewhat distorted—reflecting a mind increasingly disconnected from reality. “As the main character is a painter, and the disease is getting more [prominent], all these old memories of painting and art come up to the surface,” Collet notes. “That’s why it’s also a bit fantastic sometimes, because it seems that all his old memories come up to the surface, and are mixed up with his everyday life.”
While William Utermohlen served as a primary model for the character of Louis, the look of the short’s world was informed by the life of Peter Falk—a four-time Emmy-winning actor who also succumbed to Alzheimer’s. “I remember reading a story about his wife clustering him toward a safe place where he couldn’t really escape, because she was fearful. He lost himself one time in Los Angeles, and he didn’t know where he was, so his wife made sure he was safe by making an enclosed space,” the director shares. “That’s what I really wanted to show—a character inside an enclosed area.”
Sculpting puppets, covering them with latex foam, and then painting them in his singular style for the short, Collet created Memorable through a combination of stop-motion filmmaking and computer-generated 3D effects. The latter helped the director with several particularly surreal moments, reflective of Louis’ degenerating mind—like when the character sees his cell phone melting spontaneously before his very eyes.
For Louis, almost every person in the world appears quite strange. As his illness develops, and he sits down with his family for dinner, his children appear as abstract clay creations. His doctor, meanwhile, appears to him as an eerily skinny, metallic man. This particular character was inspired, Collet says, by the sculptures of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. “It’s one of the first people we meet that the painter doesn’t recognize. I wanted him to have this Giacometti look because actually, the Giacometti sculptures are a bit frightening,” he reflects. “I wanted to have this special look for the doctor—this strange, weird, worrying look.”
All in all, Memorable took nine months to make—three for the creation of puppets and backgrounds, three for the shoot, and three for post-production. Screening at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the Cristal award for Best Short, the film also brought Collet his first Oscar nomination, though the director never could have anticipated this result. “It’s truly amazing and surprising at the same time, because I didn’t know anyone in Hollywood. There were not a lot of lobbying and not a lot of connection,” Collet says. “So, I’m really, really surprised, but also very thrilled about it.”
Currently, the director is looking to make his first feature—a film that also is focused on a renowned painter. “[It] will be about a painter called [Théodore] Géricault,” Collet shares. “He had a very, very famous painting, called The Raft of the Medusa, and this is the next project I’m working on.”
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