Among the big budget, big name films nominated for Best Animated Feature in this year's Academy Awards—which include Pixar’s Inside Out, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, Yoshiaki Nishimura’s When Marnie Was There, and the BBC-produced Shaun The Sheep—is relatively unknown Brazilian filmmaker Alê Abreu’s unassuming, coloring book-style film, Boy And The World. The story unfolds without dialogue (save for smatterings of made-up language) and is told from the perspective of a nameless young boy in search of his father, who has left to find work. In mind-bogglingly colorful, almost-abstract drawings (like in this film) and collages that move from spare, minimalistic frames to the most intricate of cityscapes, the film chronicles the boy’s journey from small village to big city and beyond.
Boy And The World is not so much a road trip tale or coming-of-age story as it is an adventure through the complexities of memory and society—the boy's travels in the noisy, urban landscape are interspersed with reminiscences of happier times at home with his parents. Using these visual and narrative contrasts, the film explores conceptions of the meaning of home and family, and the implications of those two human necessities being damaged by financial and societal circumstances, especially when you're a kid. Boy And The World is soundtracked with the same vivacity as its animation, featuring a score by Brazilian composers Gustavo Kurlat and Ruben Feffer that is influenced by protest songs, old and new Brazilian music, as well as global artists like Sigur Rós. In advance of the film’s international release and exciting Oscar nomination, Abreu spoke with The FADER (with help from a translator) about how Boy And The World came to be.
What was behind your decision to forgo dialogue?
ALȆ ABREU: Boy and the World was created very differently from all the other films I’ve made in the past. I proceeded almost without a script, and I created story segments right in the editing room, making drawings, animations, testing sounds and music as I went along. That’s why I think I was able to discover the essence of the film without using dialogue. The little that does exist is an invented language, Portuguese spoken backwards. For example, the song “Airgela,” which is sung in the film, is “Alegria,” or “Joy” spelled backwards.
Why did you choose the colors that you did for each particular scene?
I was guided in the making of this film by the eyes of a child. I tried to stay as close as possible to this boy’s universe. Everything started from there. Not exactly trying to imitate the way a child draws, but trying to draw with the same freedom of a child, without judging.
“The idea was to start with a completely blank sheet of paper. A metaphysical void—where we had come from and where we were going.”—Alê Abreu
Though the images are two dimensional, they include so much depth of texture. How did you achieve this effect? Why did you choose to create it in this way?
The idea was, in fact, to create some sort of disconnect—we were using many 2-D drawings, while at the same time we were using 3-D camera effects. By doing so, I believe we invited spectators to create the film through their own eyes.
Some parts of the film are very intricate and the animation fills the whole page. In other scenes, characters are presented against white or solid colored backgrounds. What was the effect you hoped to achieve with this contrast?
The idea was to start with a completely blank sheet of paper. A metaphysical void—where we had come from and where we were going. This child emerges in this space, into a garden full of colors and organic textures and, as he starts moving toward a knowledge of the things of this world built by men, newspaper clippings and magazines begin to cover this white, luminous and sacred space. This metaphor guided us throughout.
“I’ve travelled a lot with the film over the last two years, and now I want to stay home. I’m building a small house in the mountains where I intend to make my next film. I want to stay there, in silence.”—Alê Abreu
What is your connection to the music in Boy And The World? In what ways have you been influenced by music, Brazilian and otherwise?
Boy And The World emerged from another film. I was doing research for a documentary called Canto Latino where music played a central role in the narrative. The idea was to tell the history of Latin American countries through the lens of the protest music of the time, people like Violeta Parra, Victor Jara and the Nueva Trova movement in Cuba with Silvio Rodriguez. I think that this musical spirit permeated the creation of Boy. I would draw entire segments steeped in that music. Later the film began to take on a more universal quality and new references began to make their way into the film, such as Sigur Rós. The idea of the flute, for example, emerged from one of that band’s songs. Gustavo Kurlat and Ruben Feffer, who created the film’s soundtrack were very successful in juggling all of these musical influences and the special guests too—people like percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, and the corporal music of the Barbatuques and GEM (Grupo experimental de música). Emicida arrived more toward the end, when the film was almost finished. We felt that it was necessary to also have music with lyrics, to serve as a counterweight to what was such an abstract film. That’s how we arrived at rap, which is present day protest music.
Are there any contemporary Brazilian musicians you've been gravitating towards recently?
Brazil is a very musical country. It’s just amazing the amount of talent that emerges all the time. I recommend you listen to Criolo. Also, Lirinha, an ex-member of Cordel do Fogo Encantado, who has some very interesting solo work, which you should check out.
The end of the film is so moving, and seems to point out the precious quality of family love.
Yes, in that moment, it is as if time did not exist. Only a feeling of eternal union through love.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? What do you most want to explore?
I’ve travelled a lot with the film over the last two years, and now I want to stay home. I’m building a small house in the mountains where I intend to make my next film. I want to stay there, in silence.
What, to you, is home?
Home to me is where I feel at peace.