Animated drug trips are the best kind of drug trips—all the psychedelia, none of the existential terror. Still, many judge the highs to be worth the risk, and The Night I Dance With Death (La Nuit Le Danse avec la Mort), an independent animation out of France, certainly makes a compelling case for recreational drug use. To the credit of its creator, independent animator Vincent Gibaud, he doesn’t sugar-coat the drug experience though. In the film’s all-too-brief 6min runtime our protagonist runs the gamut of drug-fuelled sensations: from amped-up partying, to crushing despair, to beautiful (and sexy!) ecstasy.
A wordless short, the animation is a freeform exploration of altered states—a trip that nonetheless follows a structured journey. We follow our our lead, a mopey partygoer who ingests an electric blue pill, and are teleported into a strange dimension of sensation. Initial wonder morphs into darkness, as subconscious monsters take hold. But our lead is rescued by a young woman, and lead into the safety of the ocean. The experience ends on a sweet note that, for our hero, is sure to last a lifetime.
Gibaud, a bright young French animator just a few years out of school at LISAA, was inspired by simple reflection upon the question of what leads people to take drugs or alcohol in excess. In doing so, he discovered a powerful plot mechanism to visually represent inner feelings. Animation is at its purest via fantasy and the opportunity to depict what otherwise cannot be depicted. This is powerfully true in The Night I Dance With Death, allowing Gibaud and his team to go off in crazy visual directions, but somehow still stay grounded within a simple story of a young man working through his anxieties, resulting in a film that is (nearly) as satisfying as a narrative as it is as eye-candy.
Powered by a modest crowdfunding campaign, and fresh on the heels of an online release for his graduation short, Gibaud set up a team of young and hungry animators to work out of Supamonk Studios, with over 50 individuals eventually contributing to the work. The result is revelatory— a candy-colored visual style that is somehow still dimly lit, darkness constantly intruding from the corners of the frame. The character design is simplistic, but this allows for imaginatively fluid morphing in the films most trippy sequences, employing a level of motion and virtual camera movement highly reminiscent to me of Studio 4°C’s influential work from the past decade. Deep animation nerds will surely find occasion to gasp in sheer pleasure at the creativity and execution on display during multiple bravura sequences.
It’s a bold move to bet on oneself, but with the Night I Dance With Death, Gibaud’s faith must pay off. After a successful festival run, the film premieres online today, and this is the kind of effort that puts a young animator on the map. The question now is does he get gobbled up by a studio and put to task on commercial work, or find a way to continue as a director of his own visions? Time will tell, but Gibaud tells us that he currently at work on a new short film, one that might get set up at a prominent Parisian animation studio. Stay tuned.