Estonia/ 2019/ 88 mins
Milk, it is a dangerous substance – or were you not aware? Causing chaos, its necessity to the small communities across the world leads to a disturbing reliance on the soft, quivering underbellies of so many cows. The stop-motion animation The Old Man may have humble beginnings as an episodic online series, but now the titular character strides out, udder in one hand and vodka in the other, with his very own Movie, which is, in part, an inter-generational road epic.
Traversing the landscape of Estonia, The Old Man: The Movie sees one grandfather task his three grandchildren with help in finding his lost cow. While this may seem simple enough, the cow will explode without being milked regularly. What’s worse, the town’s previous milker has a vendetta against the bovines of this world, determined to lop off their heads before another serious accident, one which turned him more dairy than human, can occur once more.
No doubt unique in premise, Oskar Lehemaa and Mikk Mägi’s writing and direction maintains the renowned humour of its small-screen source while attempting to drive an extended narrative. The film’s story divides itself between three tales: that of the Old Man, our antagonist The Old Milker, and the third grandchild Mart, who is left behind in the cow byre. Balancing the three well, the road movie aspect turns itself around, refusing to conform to bizarre notions of growth or character arc. While the children may come to appreciate their grandfather, the film (fantastically) cruelly pokes fun at the forced changes, ridiculing how a one-hour journey would not impact many people at all.
The divisive comedic stylings of The Old Man: The Movie are taken directly from the animated shorts of Vanamehe Multikas, and despite the huge success of the series both in and outside Estonia, this explains much of the film’s pacing issues. The extreme levels of scatological humour make sense in a five to 10-minute video, where the excessive joke level provides a built-up gag. In a feature film, the same gag parcelling itself in different animal anuses begins to wear thin. You will find several excellent individual scenes which do have a solid sense of humour, poo related and slightly more refined, but you will also find padding thicker than the clay used for these figures.
This, regarding the stop-motion figures, is conversely one of the film’s more substantial aspects. Egert Kesa and Olga Stalev’s animation is rough and occasionally lacking in movement, but throughout the film grows exponentially in character, and the fusion of intertextual forms of old cinema clippings, 2D-styled drawings and Claymation makes The Old Man: The Movie a must for any animation fans. It accentuates the ludicrous narrative while maintaining an unfettered earthiness; as if some of the farmland had been ground into the modelling clay. While the principal cast is sculpted rather plainly, our antagonist Old Milker, along with some exploding cows and a cock-eyed bear, make for characters of which other studios would be proud.
Things are never what they seem with the Fantasia Film Festival, and The Old Man: The Movie is definitive proof of the inventive capabilities of those attracted to the event. The film will divide audiences as it repels and entices in equal measure. The humour can be crude, awkward and dragging, but on occasion, it is cleverer and even cruder than first thought. As a piece of animation, the roughness belies a brilliance in its stop-motion craft, a style which borrows from the likes of Aardman or Pat & Mat, but which sprinkles it with enough dairy, grime and cow dung to stand out from the crowds.
Review originally published for The Wee Review
Available on-demand as part of Fantasia Festival from 20st August 2020