Review: Machini (2019)

Courtesy of Twentynine Studio

It is not that common nowadays that the film starts directly with the title, as it is the case with Frank Makunday’s and Tétshim animated short Machini. The title here takes us in a not completely accurate direction, which is reinforced with the introductory animation, the chalk-on-board drawing of some kind of machine, over the printed title. Machini is, well, not about machinery per se, but it turns out to be about something else that includes it – industrialization and its downsides.

This Belgian-Congolese co-production premiered in both of the co-production countries before going on a festival tour at festivals like IFFR, Clermont-Ferrand, Annecy and One World, among others. We had the chance to see it at Pravo Ljudski Film Festival happening online this year.

The action starts (and somehow ends) in the water. A man made of small pieces of rocks tries to dive out to the surface. Once he does, the scope widens, so we discover the beach and the coastal town. In the town, it is business as usual, which means playing for the children and working for the adults, with some complementary corner-cutting and entertainment. An industrial facility, probably connected with cobalt- and lithium mining (which is a motor of the developing industry in Congo) is looming over the town. Local workers take a van to go there for work. The accident happens and the toxic waste pollutes both the air and the water. The industry has to go on, even though it is causing harm to the population.

The primary technique Makunday and Tétshim are using for their film is stop-motion animation with quite abstract figurines made of small rock pieces represent the humans. The blackboard provides the background, the chalk drawings on it are the scenery, while the dust, dirt and small pieces of metal (bolts, screws, nail parts) are also used in the creation of the objects the people are using. There is even a bit of computer rendering for some specific effects.

The use of animation is quite proper and serves the simple, yet effective story quite well, since it drives the point across without the need for over-explanation. However, Makunday and Tétshim, who both served as the writers, directors and animators of Machini, have the urge to cement the point they made with the narration in the form of direct reading from someone else’s work that happens over the pitch black screen. The contrast it makes with the previously seen material is a bit too stark and therefore a bit problematic, since the light touch of the dialogue-free simple and cleverly animated story was quite refreshing.

Year: 2019
Runtime: 9’ 47’’
Country: Belgium, DR Congo
Language: French
Directed by: Frank Makunday, Tétshim
Written by: Frank Makunday, Tétshim
Narrated by: Vhan Olsen Dombo
Animated by: Frank Makunday, Tétshim
Edited by: Caroline Nugues-Bourchat, Frank Makunday
Music by: Francesco Nchikala
Sound design by: Spilulu Mbolela
Sound recording by: David Douglas Masamuna
Production companies: Picha Asbl, Twenty Nine Studio