Close your eyes and picture the senior years of your life. What do you envision? Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, how we spend our final years on this planet is something we’ll all have to consider at some point. The one thing no-one hopes for, is to end-up in a retirement home…yet thousands do. Taking us inside one such establishment is Samuel Patthey & Silvain Monney’s beautiful animation Ecorce (Peel) – a 15-minute short that blends a sketchbook animation style with an observational documentary approach.
Winner of the Best Short Cristal at Annecy 2021, Ecorce opens with a slow-pan along some aging skin, before we cut to a silhouetted figure slowly stepping around a white space. Two-minutes have passed before we’re fully immersed in the care home environment. If you’re thinking that’s too long, you need to consider the subject matter here. Patthey and Monney seem as intent on capturing the IRL pace of their setting, as they are on creating an entertaining film. In fact, the more time you spend in the world of Ecorce, and its retirement home setting, you come to think of the pacing as a character in itself.
“We wanted to capture what is time for those residents” Patthey explains in this interview on Zippy Frames. “So, we stretched the scene as long as possible, and tried to get the feeling and rhythm of time. We really fought against the rules of animation, where you supposedly need movement and something to happen to the left and to the right of the frame. Here, it was very important for us to capture a very simple moment and action, which can be boring to animate; but they had to be like that”.
It’s reported that time is perceived as moving quicker the older we get and time is obviously an important factor in Ecorce, but not just because of the subject matter. Generally, in the world of shorts you expect narratives to unravel quicker than they would in the longer run-times of features, but Patthey and Monney’s film proves there can be successful exceptions to this assumption. Focused on the world of the elderly, where its inhabitants may observe time as moving quicker, the truth is that from outside their action appear slow and laboured. With that in mind, it would have been jarring for the directors to present a more vivacious animation and instead their leisurely approach captures this world with real tenderness and empathy. Qualities that can often be lacking when young people create films about seniors.
It’s not just the film’s tempo that pays fitting tribute to its subject matter though, with the restrained animation style also feeling complimentary to the themes of the short. Much like the people depicted in Ecorce, this a film with a lot less movement than its contemporaries, the sketchbook style (also seen in Patthey’s previous short Travelogue Tel Aviv) doing a stellar job of immersing us in the environment. Patthey and Monney’s production doesn’t seem at all interested in dramatising events, what it is instead doing is trying to capture a genuine snapshot of a world often portrayed with a skewed perspective. Placing us as both an inhabitant and an outsider, observing events, again the animation style helps to heighten the empathetic impact of the film. These aren’t just characters captured on screen, they feel real and so does their situation and there’s true power in that.
As the film concludes and we return again to the slow panning shot traversing the crevasses of an aging hand, it’s a fitting end to a thought-provoking short. As that wrinkled appendage fades from the screen, it provides a welcome reminder of the impermanence of life, something many may struggle to even consider without the onset of anxiety, but a line of thought some consider vital in making the most of our limited time.