Despite its descriptive title revealing exactly what is going to happen in Nicolas Fattouh‘s surreal fable-like short, How My Grandmother Became a Chair, there’s still a lot of surprises to be found in this 10-minute film. The strange tale of an elderly matriarch who transforms, one body part at a time, into a piece of furniture, this fictional tale is grounded in reality through the director’s own experiences of losing his grandmother.
“I naively thought she would always be there, but when she passed away, I knew she was gone forever”, Fattouh explains as we discuss how his own encounters with grief inspired his storyline. The presence of his loss is rich throughout his short, as despite is surreal nature, it’s a film that packs a weighty punch in the emotional department. The grandmother’s gradual change is at first both comical and unsettling, but her final transformation is a beautiful and tender moment, that really hits in the heartstrings.
“It was only on her deathbed that she was able to perceive her for who she truly was”
This isn’t just a film about grief though. In fact, you could easily argue that the grandmother isn’t even the central character here, with the housekeeper (portrayed as a feline-like being for most of the film) and her transformation adding an extra layer of depth and complexity to the narrative. However, just like the elderly woman in the story, her character and her journey was inspired by real life events.
“Despite being a loving person, my grandmother couldn’t see her African housekeeper Rose as part of her family, even after all these years of living with us”, Fattouh declares as we talk about the characters in his film. “It was only on her deathbed that she was able to perceive her for who she truly was, a human with feelings and aspirations.”
Through the housekeeper’s metamorphosis, from having an almost pet-like presence in the story to being the one person who truly seems to care about the titular woman, our emotional response to the film is deepened and the narrative elevated from just another tale of loss. With Fattouh openly admitting that his film was created as somewhat of a cathartic exercise, he also reveals that the film underwent its own transformation, becoming more about providing “an insight on human relationships”. As he concludes, “this story is about life, death and the truths revealed when social stigmas subside.”
Created with producer Fabian Driehorst (The Last Tape, Carlotta’s Face, Steakhouse) and Nermine Haddad as part of the Robert Bosch Stiftung Film Prize, an initiative that ran from 2012 to 2021 and looked to form collaborations between emerging talents from Germany and the Arab World, How My Grandmother Became a Chair is so thematically rich it would be easy to overlook its impressive aesthetic. As while the storyline presents a universal premise, it’s in the visuals that Fattouh’s individual style and cultural heritage really shines through. A 2D animation made in Adobe Animate, through the short the director adapts his fine arts background into an animatable form which perfectly portrays his Lebanese roots.
Since creating How My Grandmother Became a Chair Fattouh has been working on two new shorts – Rien que pour l’amour des gens with Novanima studio and Salted Skins with Folimage studio – he is also writing his debut animated feature People cannot feel the things that do not touch them. We look forward to seeing all of those in the not-too-distant future.