Manivald is stuck. Well into adulthood at 33 years old, he lives an inconsequential existence in the comfort of his mother’s home. His diplomas hanging on the wall only serve an interior design purpose, as he spends everyday just chilling. All that is about to change however when a brief encounter prompts him to finally get his life together. Writer/Director Chintis Lundgren’s lauded animation short is distinctive and quirky—both sexually provocative, but also sweet—and the absurd humour of Manivald’s anthropomorphic characters proves surprisingly relatable to any who have experienced the malaise of early adulthood. While at times painfully awkward, the film’s approach ultimately provides enough distance for viewers to allow us to laugh at ourselves and enjoy this fun coming-of-age take on quarter-life angst.
If Manivald feels authentic and genuine under the humor, it is because the inspiration behind the project comes from Lundgren and co-writer Draško Ivezić’s real life experiences navigating their 20’s. This reluctance to grow up and to stay in our childhood bedrooms is something of a millennial trope, but like many stereotypes, it is rooted in undeniable lived experiences. In an era of over-education and under-employment, where the defined paths of life that previous generations were expected to follow are eroding to both the benefit and bewilderment of young people, the comfortable yet aimless life is hard to break away from—especially when it is paired with a loving, but co-dependent, relationship with one’s parents, such as the one Manivald has with his mother.
Storytelling relies on change however, and for Manviald it comes in the form of buff handyman Toomas, whose arrival is the unexpected event that forces him to confront the reality of his life, and awaken a desire for more. Toomas is not the fairytale Prince Charming, but his raw sexuality, and the wedge he drives between Manivald and his mother (in what is one of the weirdest love triangles of recent memory) serves as a catalyst for growth. After a fateful encounter, Manivald seeks to transfer his dependency from his mother to Toomas, but with that possibility foreclosed, our lead is forced to finally stand up and do things for himself by taking control of his life instead of being a passenger.
Manivald is potentially viewed as pathetic, but under the care of the film’s writers he is a character worthy of rooting for—easily relatable, faulty but lovable. Parts of his life definitely triggered memories of myself and my friends at similar impasses, furthering my emotional engagement with his story. We want to see him find himself and get the courage to grow up and start his own life, projecting our own aspirations and hopes onto him. This ability to empathize with Manivald is likely key to your enjoyment of the film, and the LGBTQ themes of the story (still surprisingly rare in animation) add both another layer to this, and well as deepening the theme of finding oneself and forming an identity.
The animation style complements the narrative and serves its higher storytelling purpose. The minimal design and muted palette give the film a very pleasant, non-aggressive look, allowing the audience to focus on the depth of the story, while imbuing a lightheartedness that would be difficult otherwise. The choice to have anthropomorphic characters surprisingly makes it easier to relate to as opposed to human characters with their specific features, and of course it is always a pleasure to be able to laugh at aspects of our personalities brought to life in the form of an animals, especially when the characters are so charmingly designed. The surreal dimension makes the film even more entertaining while still remaining a heartfelt late coming of age story.
A big hit on the 2017/2018 festival circuit with stops at prestigious animation festivals like Annecy, Ottawa, Animafest Zagreb and AnimaMundi Brazil and notable selections at Sundance and Palm Springs to name a few, Manivald is finally available online with support of Canada’s National Film Board, which was a production partner on the film. Thankfully however Manivald’s adventures are not over—Lundgren and Ivezić are working on a series where Manivald finally moves out and starts new crazy and absurd adventures! Satisfied for now to finally be able to share with you this gem of a short film, our team nevertheless impatiently awaits the return of this late-blooming fox and his halting steps towards independence.