October 17, 2018

Life’s Dualities

Craig Richardson always wanted to make a moviethat involved survivors of Nazi Germany, especially after seeingfilms of the liberation of the concentration camps. But as thesubject matter has been explored numerous times, Richardson wanted todo it a little bit differently. “I wanted to write a story thatwasn’t your usual one, something that explored the duality of life,”he says.

What could be more different than the fruit of hislabors, “Anima,” an odd Wyoming-set mystery about Sam and Iris, anelderly German couple whose lives are turned upside down by areporter making a documentary about taxidermy — and who suspectsthem of being war criminals.

But Sam and Iris are nothing of the sort. Sam, apublicity-shy taxidermy master, and Iris, a gentle, carefreemusician, are still passionately in love. Escaping the horrors oftheir pasts, they have created for themselves a secluded paradisewhere they have little need for the outside world.

In “Anima,” the center of Sam and Iris’ livesis a surreal play about ghetto life starring Sam’s stuffedcreations.

The center of their lives — besides each other –is a marionette play that depicts a surreal vision of ghetto life andrecounts their escape. Sam’s stuffed creations and Iris’ hauntingcello melodies are the stars of the drama they are endlesslyperfecting.

While the chemistry between the lovebird coupleseems genuine, the plot involving the documentarians is lesseffective, partly because low-budget independent films aboutstruggling independent filmmakers is a well-worn concept. “Anima’s”visuals are stylish, however, especially the war flashbacks andsequences with the marionettes. (It is no coincidence that RhodeIsland-based writer-director Richardson’s background is in the artworld. He holds a master’s degree in painting, and has sculpted andmade experimental films for the past two decades.)

“The movie started out obtuse and got more obtuse,but in a good way,” Richardson says of “Anima’s” evolution.Originally titled “The Perception” because of “how peoplemisperceived things,” the name (and ending) was changed after itoriginally screened for potential buyers at a New York film marketlast fall. “What people talked about the most was the relationshipbetween [Sam and Iris],” says Richardson. “The feeling was that theending was interrupted by a lot of other [characters].”

“Anima” comes to Los Angeles on Thursday, May 28,only, as part of the American Cinematheque’s Alternative Screenseries, a forum for independent cinema, including films (such as”Anima”) searching for distribution deals. The screening will beginat 7:30 p.m. at the Raleigh Studios Charlie Chaplin Theater, 5300Melrose Ave., Hollywood. Tickets are $7, and $4 for Cinemathequemembers, with free parking on the studio lot. Call (213) 466-3456 formore information.