No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
By Daniel Bickermann. Friedrich Dürrenmatt, author, apocalypticist and amateur painter once had a famous artist as a guest in his home, showing him some of his drawings over the obligatory glass of red wine. The famous painter came to a startled stop in front of a large-sized drawing of Dürrenmatt’s: On the canvas you could see two trains crashing into each other on a railway bridge high up in the mountains, so that the train carriages crash right onto a pedestrian bridge with a procession on it underneath, which in turn collapses and sends train parts, pedestrians and debris falling into the valley below and directly onto a pilgrimage church crammed with people – all the while in the sky there are two suns crashing into one another, melting into a fatal supernova. The painter stared extensively at this picture, turned to Dürrenmatt and said: “A grown-up man shouldn’t be drawing things like that.”
Similiar things can be said about Marina Moshkova’s radical short film IN SCALE, which at first sight seems to have lost all sense of scale as well: While sweet children’s music is playing, a bird mother hatches an egg, sees a chic emerging and flies off to find food for its newborn young. The miracle of life. Too bad that this little bird will, in the course of her everyday actions, cause a hot-air balloon to go down, a train wreck, an aeroplane crash and finally a flooding catastrophe. It’s a small step for a little bird, but a giant leap backwards for humanity.
Of course there have already been short films connecting animated pencil-drawings suitable for children’s TV with sarcastic tragedies of fate, for example in the works of the infamous childhood traumatizer Don Hertzfeld; but Marina Moshkova adds a moral, a philosophical and even a political dimension, which shakes the viewer in his or her foundations: Can the protection of an individual be put in an objective scale to the protection of the general public? Is it the free development of the individual, which here leads to collective catastrophe? Or is it the relentless revenge of mother nature, acting through an oblivious agent to wreak havoc among the civilizationally imperialistic humanity? Must the simple struggle for survival of a creature necessarily erase the existence of other creatures? Or, for all of those who think that these kinds of questions might reach a bit too far out for a seemingly simple short film: Is all of this only some dark joke, just like Dürrenmatt’s drawing? And if so: at whose expense? It’s a film that will make you laugh, but the laughter is a contemplative, confounded one. Moshkova cleverly manipulates us to enjoy the catastrophe, before asking ourselves: whose side were we on, actually, as we were watching this film?
The director artfully plays with the audience’s sympathy: A less profound film would have stopped at being a slightly cynical joke about chaos theory, having the proverbial butterfly cause the equally proverbial hurricane, all the while displaying a concerned attitude. As if saying: “It’s nobody’s fault, you know.” But Moshkova plays a more perfidious game: Her little avian protagonist is built up to be a lovable character for us to identify with, all with mother’s instincts, good intentions and droll animation – and then these exact feelings are taken over their own limit with the audience. Moshkova doesn’t even grant us the relief of a reversal of identification: She always stays with the little bird, leaving the humans in negligible, ugly and frowsy stick-figure drawings – and never taking away the bird’s sweet voice and good intentions.
The paradox between the good deed and its horrible consequences, between the bird’s small happiness and the humans’ massive misfortune is never solved. These are the dastard ways of the world, Moshkova tells us: Every natural disaster can also be seen as a little bit of luck – and on the other side can every small pursuit of happiness and protection result in massive tragedy. The world is out of joint, everything is out of proportion and there are simply no objective scales for happiness or tragedy.