As film fans we love, well…Love. Falling in love, unrequited love, hate that becomes love, even love that becomes hate. In all these forms however we see one commonality—passion, a fullness of feeling.
But what about when love just fades? A crisis of absence rather than presence? Howard is the second short film proper from Julia Pott, a young animator currently finishing her MA at the Royal College of Art in London, and is a film that deals with this un-cinematic situation in a remarkable way—avoiding histrionics in order to straightforwardly explore the complexity of a woman’s feelings, via pensive self-reflexivity.
“We’ve been on and off for 5 years now? And I still can’t give you the answer you desire.”
The film is a monologue. A chance encounter brings a woman and her on again, off again man together at the market, and this encounter serves as an ellipsis, bracketing our female protagonist’s flight into flashback. She recalls the euphoric rush of the early relationship and contrasts it to the bewildering hollowness she feels now. In a way we’ve seen this film before, but usually from the other side—the over the moon romantic, pining for the lovely woman who shows him favor but always remains out of reach. Having this perspective flipped is somewhat novel, and is a perfect exhibit of what, as a culture, we miss from the under-representation of women in creative visual media.
According to a video interview at SpineTv, Howard is based partly on autobiography and partly on a clipping from the Guardian Newspaper. From these inspirations a wonderfully written script is birthed, exquisite and subtle, hinting at the nature of our heroine’s situation. The careful and perfect wording of the early line, “I loved to be loved by you,” is a key example. This is not a great love affair, one of poetry and epics, this is a woman who has caught a man that she feels she SHOULD be happy with—one who is attractive enough, who is witty enough—so why isn’t he enough?
The subtext is the modern discourse on relationships, where feminism and changing mores have ironically put more power into young male’s hands. Young women are constantly warned to not chase after “fairy tale romances” and be pragmatic, while Hollywood continues to reinforce, via any movie catering to a female demographic, the extraordinary pressure placed on women to land one of these commitment-phobic males, lest you become Jennifer Aniston (oh the terror!).
This tension is wonderfully portrayed in Howard, as our protagonist knows that emotionally she has moved on, yet struggles with the senselessness of her fickle heart. There is the natural dread of hurting someone else, but there is also a hint of self-reproach—why can’t she recover feelings lost? Is squandering this man’s love a mistake? The brief short film closes wonderfully, as, while she cannot explain her feelings, she has the courage to finally confront them.
As an animation it behooves us to spend some words on it. Frankly it is a treat. Ms. Pott has been gaining quite an audience independent of her storytelling skills, as the established aesthetic of her character-design and illustrations have proven a hit in galleries and commerce alike. Of most recent note, one of her sketches will be seen on J Crew toddler clothes this season.
While illustration and design is her strength, she has a developing flair for motion as well. The transition in Howard between the market and the flashback fantasy-scape is one of the best sequences I’ve seen this year. The maturation of Howard in comparison to Ms. Pott’s first film, 2007’s unexpected viral hit, My First Crush, (a lovely film that unfortunately pales in comparison to other animated documentaries, particularly the work of Jonas Odell) is enormous in all aspects and promises great things for the future.
Because of the girly-girl roots of her art and first film, it was tempting to ghettoize Ms. Pott into a category of hipster-preciousness, but like her contemporary, Kirsten Lepore, her latest effort has quieted such discussion. Howard is an emotionally mature and uncommonly insightful short film that is moving without the aid of bombast. Don’t miss this one.