War is hell. And, as such, it’s depiction on film often lends itself to bombast: big explosions, gory violence, and tangible grit. So, a film like Senseless—a restrained exercise in visual minimalism—certainly bucks expectations. It’s sparse and introspective, probing not only the trauma of war, but the madness of isolation and the strain of loneliness. The latter theme is oddly prescient as we continue to hunker away during a global pandemic, but illustrator/animator/poly-hyphenate David Zamorano’s film is a timeless anti-war narrative that presents the futile, kafkaesque nature of “war” as an overarching concept.
Cold and spartan, Senseless is arresting experimentation in both stripped-down narrative and aesthetic design. True, it’s not a fast-paced story (and thus will alienate some), but it is an evocative one: the tone and setting are as much characters as the unnamed protagonist and his prisoner. It’s easy to get swept up in the film’s atmosphere. Although Zamorano cites the story of Hiroo Onoda—the Japanese soldier who kept fighting in WW2 on a Philippine island well after surrender—as creative inspiration, this is a tale that exists out of time—a sort of amalgamation of surrealism and grounded soviet brutalist architecture. It’s war as an aesthetic. This same style translates to the characters themselves: blocky and coarsely detailed. I was especially taken by the film’s color palette. Like the film’s design, it’s quite limited, but still visually interesting: a striking combination of orange and blue hues.
As Zamorano writes to Short of the Week:
“I was particularly interested in the collapse of already surreal situations. Final battles, revolutions and the transitions from one stage to another, impossibly complex scenarios and the states of mind that result from such extreme moments which can sadly, trigger the lowest and most irrational of behaviours.
I was also keen on exploring, and even more so as a graphic designer, how the world could be so very rapidly divided and tore apart by political and ideological “brands”. This question informed the basis for the story behind the short film.”
Like the film’s central character, Zamorano essentially acted as an “army of one,” handling all the design and animation himself. The main movements were all animated using a frame by frame technique. 3D modelling was used to build architectural pieces such as the bunkers and the watchtower, which allowed for more freedom when changing camera angles, after which, the buildings were redrawn for the final frames.
Zamorano is currently hard at work on a new film project, researching an unresolved crime story set in the early 80s in his home country of Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship regime. Crime? Political agents? Conspiracy? It all sounds like the perfect subject matter for Zamorano’s very specific aesthetic style.