A metaphorical and bitterly ironic story about a society suffering from 'a headless existence'.
Marek Skrobecki's puppet animation Danny Boy shows an individual at odds with the system. His emotions reveal his otherness and need for acceptance. The production is a refined animated film featuring elaborate puppets. According to the director, it was his most difficult piece of work so far given the great number of puppets appearing on set at the same time. This pessimistic animated film refers by its title as well as by some motifs to the famous Irish ballad.
Skrobecki presents a surprising reality. A seemingly ordinary city is inhabited by people suffering from a serious condition strangely enough, their headlessness does not seem to bother them much. Headless individuals walk in haste and chaos around the town, stumbling and falling all the time. The blindness of the city inhabitants is in fact a kind of social disease, of a mass stupefaction. Duped by "headlessness", a reference to 20th-century totalitarian ideologies, those people follow an irrational blindness. Together, they create a mindless, intolerant community. It is the protagonist - the only one, colloquially speaking, to have his head screwed on the right way - who seems to feel the most lost and lonely in this "headless" crowd. As he wanders the city streets, Danny Boy is constantly filled by dread and sadness at the sight of its headless, duped and aimlessly hard-pressed inhabitants. In the privacy of his home, he slowly constructs a machine which will help bring his solitude to an end.
It is the power of feeling that brings forward the drastic action of the last rational being: as the main character falls in love, it becomes even more difficult for him to bear the alienation and lack of acceptance. Particularly given that his dissimilarity - which might actually seem elevating - also repels his beloved mate. Paradoxically, the desperate act of decapitation becomes a means of liberation, mainly from the burden of rational thinking. Free from the necessity of reflection or any responsibility and holding his sweetheart in his arms, Danny Boy walks away towards the setting sun.
In the background, we can hear the famous Irish ballad, which gave the film its title. Danny Boy was often sung at funerals or in honour of men leaving for war or in search of work. Written in 1910 by Frederick Edward Weatherly, the lyrics to the song tell the story of a man who, in late summer, and to the sound of bagpipes, leaves his homeland, where he hopes to return one day. A certain reference of the idea and plot of the Skrobecki's film to the song may also be found in the history behind the tune. Legend has it that it was composed by Rory Dall O'Cahan, a blind harpist who lived at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. The song was made popular two centuries later by two other blind musicians, Denis O'Hampsey and Jimmy McCurry. The ballad has become an unofficial anthem of Irish Americans and Irish Canadians, and it has been recorded by an enormous number of artists, among whom there are: Judy Garland, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Diana Krall, and Sinéad O'Connor.
The final scene of this 10-minute animated film presents Danny Boy walking away as a dramatic event happens in the background: a plane hits one of twin towers visible on the horizon. It seems that the catastrophe comes completely unnoticed by the inhabitants of the city suffering from the 'headlessness'. The tragedy of the passengers of the hijacked plane or of the people trapped in the skyscraper is left on the sidelines of everyday life, like the fall of Icarus in the Bruegel’s painting. The last individual who might have been able to use his brains and watch the world in a critical way gives this capacity up, preferring to lead a happy mindless life with his beloved woman, intolerant of his otherness.
Danny Boy is Marek Skrobecki's third puppet animation made with 3D technique elements, following Marchenbilder and Ichthys. The puppets are made of latex, plastic, fabric and plasticine on top of a flexible metal construction which makes it easier to move the marionettes. The three-dimensional setting for the film was built in one of the sets of the Se-ma-for Studio in Łódź, which produced the film in cooperation with the Swiss Archangel Studio.
Skrobecki's film has received numerous awards and honourable mentions, such as the Second Audience Award at the Solothurn Film Festival, or the Narcisse Award at the Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival. The film was also listed among the candidates for the Academy Award, but finally it was not nominated. At the OFAFA 2011 Festival in Kraków, the film was awarded a joint Srebrna Kreska (Silver Line) prize.
Danny Boy (2010), Poland, Switzerland. Written and directed by Marek Skrobecki; assistant director: Agnieszka Kwiecień; cinematography: Andrzej Jaroszewicz; art direction: Katarzyna Wasiela; animation: Adam Wyrwas, Krzysztof Brzozowski; 2D animation: Mariusz Wilczyński; set decoration: Janusz Grzelak, Tomasz M. Wiśniewski; film editing: Janusz Czubak; original music, sound: Florian Pittet; production: Archangel, Se-ma-for Studios. Duration: 10 minutes.
Narcisse Award for the best Swiss short - Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival, Neuchatel (Switzerland) 2010;
Second Audience Award - Solothurn Film Festival, Solothurn (Switzerland) 2010;
Best animated short film Award - Alpinale Internationale Kurtzfilmfestival, Nenzing (Austria) 2010;
Marcin prize for the best animated film for young people (awarded by the Young People’s Jury) – International Young Audience Film Festival, Poznań (Poland) 2010;
Srebrna Kreska (Silver Line) Award - Polish National Original Animated Film Festival OFAFA - Kraków (Poland) 2011.
By Iwona Hałgas, March 2011