Animation could be on the verge of a creative renaissance if this offering from Mad Entertainment in Italy is anything to go by. The Art of Happiness is a beautiful, moving, thoughtful and surprisingly fun film wrapped around a simple story of two brothers, former musicians, who have gone very different directions in their life.
Retired pianist Sergio is now a taxi driver in Naples as the city deals with a garbage crisis, whilst his elder brother Alfredo, having moved to Dharamsala to become a Buddhist, has died. Sergio is good-natured and yet saddened by his elder brother’s death so far away, and is a character you immediately relate to and empathize with. His radio station of choice is the titular “Art of Happiness” where a DJ rhapsodies on everything from music, love, life, the current political situation, the impending apocalypse and – of course – the art of happiness. Sergio, reduced to driving his uncles’ taxi around to make ends meet, muses about his life as he picks up various characters (including his uncle, the DJ from the Art of Happiness and a woman that he develops a romantic interest in). These encounters form the narrative core of the film, although there is much more going on than this simple description allows.
The film moves backwards and forwards in time in a whimsical and playful manner as Sergio drives through the city. There is no big drama here, no huge crisis, no hero overcoming an obvious obstacle or struggle. Instead we are presented with a beautiful looking and sophisticated story combining philosophy, memories, love, music and politics all in one easy-going narrative. The darkness and the rain-drenched, rubbish strewn city are matched by uplifting and optimistic moments that effectively combat the mood of doom and gloom. The stylized animation, slightly crude and edgy, perfectly details the city of Naples and the various characters – you’ll have a hard time thinking of them as animations. Each is so beautifully drawn (in both senses of the phrase), that they feel like people you would meet in real life.
The Art of Happiness could so easily have ended up being pretentious or dull with its East-meets-West philosophical contrasts, but fortunately this isn’t the case. The film is incredibly playful with its narrative, and surprisingly upbeat. It takes its time to tell its story, presenting a rich and detailed tapestry a million miles away from the usual flash-bang-zap associated with animated films. A unique and extraordinary animated film, it’s a shame that most non-animated films lack the complexity, depth and the boldness presented here .
The Raindance Film Festival will take place from the 25th September – 6th October 2013 in central London (Piccadilly Circus), screening 100 feature films and over 150 short films. Click here to find out more.
Dave is the Editor of TLFR and a freelance writer. As well as a guest on BBC radio and regular appearances on the television show Reel Review, he has written for The Guardian, We Got This Covered, the International Political Forum and more.