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Heads up: I was able to watch this film before its recent release via a screener sent to me by Totem Films. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Totem Films.
When the Oscar submission list reveals the 20+ animated films every year, there are the obvious front runners that are probably going to take up those five spots at the major award shows. Personally, I think they should do more than five, but that’s just me. You will then see many films that are there to fill the list up, films that have no chance, and some of these films that are sadly a mixture of everything. There are a few gems in this year’s lineup that should have a chance but are sadly not going to have the chance to make much of an impression, due to incompetent film voters that aren’t going to vote for anything other than what are the safe bets. Imagine a year where none of the major studios got nominated and all of the films that were nominated were from smaller studios and distributors. Sadly, that won’t happen, which sucks because films like My Sunny Maad, despite some hiccups here and there, deserve to have been seen by more voters and viewers alike.
Directed by Michaela Pavlátová, the story follows Herra, a Czech college student in Prague, who is looking for something more fulfilling in her life. That all changes one day when during class, she meets an Afghan man named Nazir. After a little time passes, Herra and Nazir get married and move to Kabul to live with his family and start a new life of opportunities during the late 2000s. This includes dealing with living under the Taliban rule, inner personal family and political drama, and adopting a boy. Will Nazir and Herra be able to make it through the hurdles through which they will have to jump?
So, within the past few years, we have had a slew of animated films that have taken place within Kabul or the middle-east like 2017’s The Breadwinner and 2019’s The Swallows of Kabul. Funny enough these three films are all based on books, and all three are directed by women. So, what does this film offer to the animation and film-going experience? One of the film’s biggest strengths is that it has a slice-of-life approach to a story that has our characters dealing with discrimination, racism, personal family, and societal problems, all while being under the rule of the Taliban. The characters themselves are complex, and although there is no real traditional three-act structure in the more familiar sense, you are invested with the characters and their plights. While the film is about 80 or so minutes long, they find time to let the entire family be the focus up until the very end, and that really helps keep the pace going and for the audiences to feel like they are getting to know the individual family members. The film itself takes place during the late 2000s and will reference multiple incidents during that time period, including the death of Osama Binladen. Even when the film got dark and depressing at points, there were still plenty of scenes of love and everyone living their lives. The film absolutely gets that the combination of happiness and getting over tough hurdles is what comes with life, and it doesn’t revel in the cynical or the misery like some films would.
Animation-wise, it does look good. While there will be a few moments that got the least amount of time put into it, and sure, it doesn’t have the same artistic beauty as The Swallows of Kabul and The Breadwinner, it has its own beauty in how much you get out of the character’s animation and acting. Even if you don’t see the many micro-emotions and details that you would see in major studio productions, you still get what the characters are thinking about and what’s going through their head, which is due to great directing and whoever was in charge of the shots’ execution. The pseudo sketchy look might have more of a digital 2D look, but it definitely has vibes of what you would normally see during Disney’s 70s era that had a more sketch design to the visuals. The voice acting is great. This film may or may not get a proper dub, but one thing that is more noticeable than most foreign films I have seen is that some parts are bilingual. There are a few stretches of the film where they do speak multiple languages. It’s rather impressive since from an observation of the credits, the actors in question did everything themselves. Special shoutout to Zuzana Stivinova, who is fantastic as Herra. That’s very rare when productions have actors who can be bilingual. Music-wise, it’s composed by Sacha and Evugeni Galpherine who bring in a very atmospheric vibe to the overall film.
If there was one thing to criticize the film for, it’s that the overall story ends rather abruptly. The film has a great story and final act, but the way it just ends is fairly underwhelming. The problem with these types of “no recognizable story structure” is that they are always going to find themselves with an ending that is either rough or undercooked. Granted, a lot of this film has intentionally uneasy answers and decisions, so in many ways, the ending does make sense. You simply want to see the people in the film be okay. Also, on a personal note, I wonder how the ending plays out now, especially with what has happened in recent events in the world outside of animation and cinema.
While it might not be the major award contender during the upcoming major awards, My Sunny Maad is an absolutely touching and intimate experience that once again proves why animation is such a powerful form of storytelling. So far, as of writing this review, My Sunny Maad has no real US distributor but is being distributed overseas via Totem Films. Let’s hope it gets some kind of US release because it’s one of the better films of 2021. If you can find some way of watching this flick, do so. Now then, next time, we will be talking about Sword Art Online Rebuild. Oh, wait, sorry, I meant Sword Art Online The Movie -Progressive- Aria of a Starless Night.
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Rating: Go See It!