GIRAF Animation Festival streaming Canada-wide Nov. 19-28

Barbeque

The human form becomes plastic beyond belief, faces stretching and distorting, bodies opening up, skin peeling off and re-applied as clothing. It's a nightmare realm, as surreal and disturbing as Bosch's most vivid fantasies.

Still from Barbeque by Jenny Jokela. A painted illustration featuring nude women in a variety of surreal settings.

CW: This film is an exploration of PTSD using intense visual metaphors including depictions of graphic violence to convey feelings of shame and disembodiment.

There is always a gap between what we feel and what we're able to express. The words we use for emotions are approximations at best, covering broad strokes of experience but leaving us without language for more complex, more difficult feelings. It has even been suggested that we feel things differently if we have words for them, and that naming emotions more accurately is a useful tool for managing them—which might help explain why articles about "untranslatable" words for very specific feelings go viral so often.

Jenny Jokela's 2017 animation Barbeque is an attempt to convey emotions and experiences that exist beyond words. That was the start of the film, stemming from how Jokela and her friends "struggled to express or talk about the emotional impact on every day life and mental health that sexual harassment and assault has." The goal was to move beyond traditional language and typical metaphors, to find uniquely personal ways to depict those feelings that avoided patriarchal framings or cliched imagery.

The resulting film is graceful and even sensuous in its movements, and unsettling and outright grotesque in its imagery. Its dominant form is the loop, sometimes explicit and sometimes implied; the landscape of PTSD is one of cyclical behaviors, and recurring trauma. The human form becomes plastic beyond belief, faces stretching and distorting, bodies opening up, skin peeling off and re-applied as clothing. It's a nightmare realm, as surreal and disturbing as Bosch's most vivid fantasies.

Still, this isn't Grand Guignol; it isn't shock for shock's sake. There's no question that Barbeque stirs up feelings in the viewer—it'd be almost impossible to view the film's incredibly visceral imagery without some combination of revulsion, confusion, discomfort, and curiosity. How close it comes to the sensations Jokela set out to convey is harder to say; one thing about expressing feelings that live beyond the boundaries of language is you can't really ask how it worked. But given the success Barbeque experienced on the festival circuit (including GIRAF in 2013), it's clear it provoked a response.

dir: Jenny Jokela
syn: Barbeque is the visceral journey about coping with post traumatic stress disorder, exploring and visualising feelings of shame and disembodiment.

2016