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

White Horse

The film feels like it's being viewed through a veil, or refracted through a pool of water—which is perfectly appropriate for such a drifting, dreamlike story.

Illustration made with sand on glass depicts a man at the entrance to a circular labyrinth

Despite trying to share shorts that use a wide range of tools and techniques, this blog hasn't really showcased much sand animation. So consider this a peace offering to the particularly vocal fans of sand out there — not that we need an excuse to spotlight a film that's as beautifully made as Yujie Xu's White Horse.

Xu makes exquisite use of the diffuse textures and blurred boundaries that sand animation can create. The film feels like it's being viewed through a veil, or refracted through a pool of water—which is perfectly appropriate for such a drifting, dreamlike story. There's an especially remarkable effect at around the 2:30 mark that comes across as a dream within a dream, with Xu warping the characters beyond what should be their breaking point. The result is breathtaking.

Created through the consistently excellent animation program at London's Royal College of Art, White Horse makes no secret of its surrealist influences — the film's protagonist even resembles Magritte's ubiquitous bowler-hatted gentlemen. But Xu's imagery goes beyond the simple absurdity that characterizes a lot of surrealism to tap into something much deeper. There's a sense of real, potent subliminal significance to sequences like the one where a crystal bursts into flames to erect a labyrinth, or the accordion push and pull that comes around four minutes in.

In her write-up on the Royal College site, Xu says the film "represents an unbalanced relationship and unreachable feeling," and even in that description you can see a reluctance to pin the imagery down. I prefer the synopsis she gives the film on Vimeo, which reads more like an obscure proverb or an intentionally obscure koan: "They say an accordion could never talk to a white horse." 

dir: Yujie Xu
syn: They say an accordion could never talk to a white horse.

Animation & Sound by Yujie Xu
Music by Catherine McAteer
Sound Mix by Ross Wilkes Houghton

2019