Fantasia 2022: My Grandfather’s Demons Review
The hustle and bustle of day-to-day life completely engulfing her and turning her into a drone who barely finds time for a social life outside of her job, Rosa (voiced by Victoria Guerra) is not unlike many trying to climb the corporate ladder at the expense of their mental health. My Grandfather’s Demons follows her as her one close relationship is suddenly gone and she’s forced to re-evaluate herself. A quaint, somber movie with just enough visual flourishes to provide a standout aesthetic, Nuno Beato’s feature directorial debut finds itself wrestling with a family’s past struggles in unique and interesting ways.
Rosa’s daily grind at work forces her to spend long nights and early mornings at her desk, aiming to achieve a “Golden Pig” that symbolizes dedication and efficiency at work. It’s a tireless pursuit that resets at the end of every day, easily leading to burnout and fatigue. However, when she receives a call that her grandfather, António (Celso Bugallo), has passed away, she finds herself summoned to her hometown in northern Portugal to try and salvage what’s left of his property to sell.
What’s immediately captivating about My Grandfather’s Demons is its animation style and transition from 3D computer-generated visuals to stop-motion (the film is the first stop-motion animated film from Portugal). It happens in a magical way as a representation of Rosa’s step out from the big city life to a return to roots as she revisits her small village from childhood. The switch to stop-motion provides a DIY-aesthetic that not only looks better than the CG models, but also serves a thematic purpose as Rosa comes down closer to Earth and her heritage.
The hang-up for Rosa, and the ultimate friction in My Grandfather’s Demons, is what Rosa walks into when she returns to her village. A property that has seen better days and a village that resents her grandfather for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that he was the only one who had access to a constant supply of water. Blindsided by revelations surrounding her grandfather and his animosity towards others, Rosa’s job becomes a lot harder as she tries to rebuild relationships with the community while also re-evaluating her own relationship with her grandfather.
There’s a constant sense of melancholy that lies beneath every interaction Rosa has with others in her village. A stubbornness from her grandfather that overshadows her every attempt to be nice results in a film that always requires some patchwork to be done. Unable to shake António’s past actions, every beat of My Grandfather’s Demons is mired in an attempt for resolution. Unfortunately, this often leads to redundancy or simply disregarding the narrative in a case of diminishing returns. Each solution to a problem feels earned, but less impactful than the last, despite the intent being a gradual build towards complete resolution.
My Grandfather’s Demons ultimately finds its demons to be more troublesome than they seem, providing Rosa with steady conflict despite there being ways around it. Instead, the film depends on bigger moments born out of happenstance to course correct Rosa’s attempts to make amends. There’s this subtle nature to the film that tells a lot about Rosa’s complicated feelings towards her grandfather and the village she left, but more often than not, My Grandfather’s Demons relies on larger-than-life moments to propel the narrative forward as opposed to letting it organically find its way.
The initial wonder and whimsy that the transition in animation styles provides is satisfying enough, especially since the film does justify its presentation with its story. Rosa herself isn’t exactly the most compelling character, but the way in which her grandfather’s actions tighten a grip around her is a fascinating means of exploring the past without depending on flashbacks and narration. Those tools are all employed, but My Grandfather’s Demons maintains a grounded perspective centered around the present and what actions can be done to mend the past and shape the future. As such, Beato’s debut ends up charming and relatable even when it’s having a hard time weaving a compelling story.
The 26th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will run from July 14 – August 3, 2022.