An absurd love triangle in a panel building, where the only thing that can grant absolution for the characters is a pigeon with an olive branch in its beak. Or not even that?
“When all hell strikes…” perhaps this is how the essence of the Czech film SH_T HAPPENS could be summarised in a sophisticated way, but there is much more to it. The two Slovak animation directors, David Štumpf and Michaela Mihályi, are not selling a pig in a poke: as a matter of fact, it is already clear from the trailer that we are about to witness a plot with a heightened level of disturbance, where strange characters and biblical symbols take over the screen for thirteen minutes.
The SH_T HAPPENS film has been on our radar for a long time, and we were just waiting for it to finally be available online. The names of David Štumpf and Michaela Mihályi might be familiar to readers from the early days of the pandemic when we featured the Domased initiative of home-based Slovak and Czech creatives, and they both drew for us for the Prague episode of our stayhomecreative series. We have long wanted to show you David and Michaela’s film (which was directed and written by them as well)—and now that we can finally access it in its completeness, we thought it was time to write about it in more detail. (Attention, spoiler alert!—the Ed.)
The film explores the coming together of an exhausted maintenance guy, a frustrated wife and a depressed deer, who are drawn together in mutual desperation. It all takes place in a well-disguised (!) Eastern European apartment building, and the question “when?” has no obvious answer, but it doesn’t really matter because the story is very symbolic—it is powerful, regardless of time and place.
It’s like stepping into the pages of a riso-printed publication: the blue-yellow-magenta-green color palette promises a seemingly carefree entertainment, but tragedy strikes already within the first seconds, (literally) like a bolt from the blue. One of the protagonists of our story, the deer in the sweater, is widowed with tragic unexpectedness and the Garden of Eden is gone—this expression is very intentional on our part, because SH_T HAPPENS is full of biblical references and symbols, sensitively fed to us by the directors.
The only human couple (the maintenance guy and his wife) is clearly a minority compared to the other inhabitants of the house. Rabbits, chickens, reptiles, dogs, all in pairs—an odd bunch of creatures (we can’t decide whether we like better the dog in sunglasses who is urinating in the stairwell ficus or the lama pair playing the 422nd praise on the synthesizer). These animals indulge in bodily pleasures (but why shouldn’t they, after all, they are creatures of instinct): dancing, partying, getting drunk and fornicating.
Tension and erotics are very palpable in the film—and they are both potential sources of humor. In our story, Adam is tired and Eve is unsatisfied and seeks solace at someone else, which will soon backfire (and the husband will be the most surprised).
Meanwhile, outside, it’s raining non-stop, the boiler room is getting flooded, but the residents are not really bothered: the only one who would save what can be saved is the dutiful maintenance guy, but only for a while (later, in his anger and ultimate despair, he himself becomes the cause of the inevitable tragedy).
The film’s particularly evocative visual world doesn’t let your eyes wander even for a moment: events unfold in rapid sequence, and each chapter not only tells us more about the three main characters but as the film progresses also reveals the causes (and later the causes of the causes) of previously unknown incidents.
In previous interviews, the filmmakers have referred to the Argentinian director Damián Szifron’s “Wild Tales” as a source of inspiration: the young directors have set the absurd scenes in the milieu of the panel houses that many of us know very well (the terrazzo-patterned staircase and the windowed lift are priceless), where some of the world’s strangest creatures become neighbors and thus (wittingly or unwittingly) part of each other’s lives.
The viewer’s eye, less accustomed to this kind of animation, might find it odd that seemingly alien universes, different species (humans and human-like animal characters) interact with each other, but this is perhaps very deliberate on the part of the directors—the absurd tragicomedy would otherwise just be a conventional love triangle, less effective in showing the true nature of things (and would undoubtedly be a lot less funny).
The animated short film by David Štumpf and Michaela Mihályi was—even to the surprise of its creators—included in the program of the 76th Venice International Film Festival, in fact, it was here that the audience first encountered the unconventional story. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the Italian competition was followed by many screenings abroad. SH_T HAPPENS has been nominated for 23 awards, of which it has won a total of seven (Palm Springs International ShortFest, Anima – Brussels Animation Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Blue Danube Film Festival, Primanima International First Animation Film Festival).
We love it because it tells a universal story (more specifically, the frustration and consequences of isolation and loneliness) in a creative and not boring way. We love the small, humorous details—the lifebelt with FUCK NOAH on the side of the boat, the character of the dove in the yellow raincoat, and the Christian hymn from the beginning, which at first appears in the film as a barely recognizable melodic fragment, later hummed by our clueless protagonist at the crib, before culminating in the very obvious Titanic allegory, interspersed with desperate screams. Brilliant.