Indie Watch: Close-Up
Is there a single non-sexual activity more cinematically overused than gambling? You can’t throw a roulette ball in a movie retailer (which, I must admit, would be an odd thing to do in an environment that’s quickly going the way of the Dodo) without hitting the bright, shiny DVD or Blu-Ray case of a new star-studded film about the risks and romances of gambling. From Rounders to Casino or from Ocean’s Eleven to the remake of Ocean’s Eleven, there are countless films filled with card-sharks, hustlers, grifters, cheats, and – on the rarest of occasions – honest people.
Clichés, though, are often overused for a reason. In addition to being predictable, all of the aforementioned movies are charming, energetic, mischievous, and sometimes even strangely edifying. Gambling films are so numerous and varied that they could constitute their own genre, and in that genre there exist some fine installments that reinvent and reinvigorate stale tropes. Close-Up, the new animated short film from Belgian filmmakers Lora D’addazio and Laure Escadafals, belongs to the group of gambling movies that shows you something you’ve never seen before.
Close-Up tells the tale of an underground poker game gone awry. Four physically and sartorially disparate men, Big Bob, Curtis, Mickey, and newcomer Young Larry, occupy the game table. It’s clear from the outset that these men not only unfriendly toward one another, but also that each one is prepared to cheat each other out of a large pile of money. Unbeknownst to the veterans, Young Larry, equipped with magician-like dexterity and a toothy Cheshire Cat grin, has the upper hand.
Animated in a beautiful hand-drawn style reminiscent of Sylvain Chomet, Close-Up is a piece of punk rock expressionism at its finest. When they’re not at the bar or the game table, the characters are covered by shadow and darkness. This pressure-cooker setting is peppered by surrealist touches – a silent and bodacious woman tends bar while a very stylish gorilla guards the subterranean room’s only door. This is not an animated movie for kids, however. When the game inevitably devolves into violence, D’addazio and Escadafals gleefully turn their beautiful setting into a devilishly bloody tomb.
Close-Up subverts gambling movie conventions by showing us what would happen if a trickster with Bugs Bunny’s nimbleness and Travis Bickle’s fury entered a doomed poker game. The results are fun, funny, and wickedly stylish. If Close-Up is any indication, D’addazio and Escadafals are definitely animators to watch.
Images from Close-Up