The relationship between documentary films and the Truth (with a capital T) has never been especially clear. That’s doubly true when it comes to animated docs, because they draw from two contradictory traditions. There’s the world of film and literature, where stories are divided into fiction and non-fiction. And there’s the world of fine art and illustration, where those terms don’t really apply—works can be stylized or realistic, be based on life, imagination, or somewhere in between, but even the most abstracted artworks are never really thought of as “fiction.”
Água Mole, the first collaboration between Portuguese animators Alexandra Ramires (Xá) and Laura Gonçalves, is structured around actual interviews with residents of Portugal’s countryside, where desertification is leading to the abandoning of towns. Rather than presenting those interviews at face value, though, the film uses them as a foundation for a more impressionistic narrative, one more concerned with the emotional undercurrents of the situation than a more literal retelling.
Does that make it less of a documentary? Does the introduction of a fictional narrative in the film’s visuals separate it from the truth of the situation? Or is it a way to strive for another kind of truth, one that wouldn’t come through in a film more preoccupied with the confines of reality?
Your answer will likely come down to personal preference, but whether or not you see Agua Mole as a documentary, there’s no denying the odd beauty of its filmmaking. Repeated imagery hints at the film’s themes—a line of ants echoing the migration of the villagers; the slow, inevitable rise of the water; the uprooting of trees, anchors, even humans blown away in the breeze. The imagery is surreal, but so is the experience the film explores, entire towns hollowed out or uprooted by forces outside their control.
Even the film’s medium connects to those notions of progress and impermanence, using a mix of etchings—about as physical of a medium as you can get—with digital 2D drawings. It leads to a richly textured aesthetic, the etched artwork providing a weathered look that works beautifully with the film’s themes.
Gonçalves and Xá are both accomplished artists in their own right. We’ve highlighted Gonçalves’ Three Weeks in December as a previous Monday Short, and Xá’s most recent short was GIRAF16 selection ELO (Tie). As wonderful as both those films are, though, the combination of Xá’s eerie surrealism and Gonçalves’ naturalism seems to bring out the best in both artists. Hopefully this collaboration won’t be their last.
Água Mole (Drop by Drop)
dir: Xá and Laura Gonçalves
syn: The last habitants of a village refuse to let themselves sink into oblivion. In a world where the idea of progress appears to be above all, this home floats.