Harpya by Raoul Servais: Saturday Night Short Film #5
Anybody who loves an animal can relate.
Note: it appears that the embedded video that I had to Harpya is no long available due to a copyright claim against the person who posted it.
Harpya is Saturday Night Short Film #5. SNSF is a weekly series where I find a short film and usually discuss it in a bite-sized way. I feel short films are underappreciated and I enjoy shining a light on them.
This edition of Saturday Night Short Film needs to begin with a quote from the director of Harpya himself, Raoul Servais, that I stumbled across. It is taken from an interview on AWN.com, which can be read in its entirety by clicking here.
Many people think that a short film director who makes a feature film comes out of puberty. This is especially true if you speak about live action, but I don’t share this opinion. I made a feature because the script I wrote was too long to be done as a short. A feature-length film was an artistic necessity. [However] while making it, I knew that I would subsequently go back to doing shorts.– Raoul Servais, speaking of the transition from short film to feature films.
I provided this quotation and bolded a specific part because it encompasses my thoughts on the short film medium. Too often people look down on it, as if fantastic flicks can’t be produced in shorter durations. This is simply untrue and Harpya proves it. To be fair, most of the movies I’ll end up watching here prove the same thing to some extent, but it stuck out to me more here because the story works better when brief. Servais knows this and only went to longer movies because it was essential to the story he wanted to tell.
In Harpya a man rescues a woman from being choked to death one night, only to find out that the woman is in fact a harpy. He takes the harpy home and treats it as one might treat a human, because what else can you do? Quickly the harpy takes over and it becomes a game of him trying to live a life, until eventually he realizes he just needs to escape. Not so easy.
Sometimes extending a concept can be detrimental. We have seen tales of obsession and dominance told at greater lengths. There are examples of this exploration that yielded great results, but Servais knew not to stretch this out. He could say everything he had to say without overstaying his welcome.
The mixture of live action and animation establishes a tone early and keeps it. Using a multiplane camera, he is able to use depth effectively to create an oppressive and dark atmosphere. It’s true: darkness plays an integral role. The harpy emerges suddenly from the darkness on multiple occasions, while at one particular moment the man himself appears from black. It’s more frightening than it is a moment of triumph, because he never really escapes the void. The minimalist and otherworldly style doesn’t allow him to. Even if he stands in the light, he is engulfed by dark.
Servais is a legend of animation but I’ve only seen five of his films now: Chromophobia, To Speak or Not To Speak, Sirene, Goldframe and now Harpya. I rate all of these a 7.5/10 or higher, but what I’ve realized he does well is handle his subject matter brilliantly. Even if the movies have some flaws to them, the commentary is expertly handled because the guy has a command of imagery and aesthetic in relation to what he’s trying to say.