Right from the start, Signe Baumane’s animation proves it has earned a place in the hallowed halls of raw storytelling. Rough, storybook-sketched 2D characters are superimposed over highly textured stop-motion backgrounds, detailing every paint stroke, scrape, sometimes even mold spore. And imagery is just the beginning.
Let it be his short film My pacifier beats sexregarding his sexual thoughts every nine seconds, or his first feature film Stones in my pockets, about how she and the women in her family struggle with depression, Baumane believes in the power of bringing her own life experiences to light in hopes of speaking from one soul to another. This ideology is also the backbone of his latest animated feature, My love affair with marriage.
“I’ve had my fair share of toxic or abusive relationships, or relationships that just haven’t worked out,” says Baumane, the film’s screenwriter and director. “And I wanted to get to the heart of what it was about and get to the heart of every relationship that I wanted to talk about.”
Premiering at the Tribeca Festival on June 11, and one of the 10 feature films selected in competition at the 2022 Annecy Festival next week, My love affair with marriage is a film seven years in the making, produced by The Marriage Project, Antevita Films and Studio Locomotive.
The 2D, 3D and stop-motion hybrid animated story follows the life journey of a girl named Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk) from childhood to adulthood as she searches for love in an effort to feel whole. Early in his development, his mother, teachers, and classmates told him that marriage is the key to all his problems. That is, as long as she meets society’s expectations of how a girl should act. Over the course of the film, Zelma embarks on a journey of discovery; experiencing the thrilling blows of first (albeit one-sided) love, winning her period then losing her virginity, entering a sacred marriage only to find her husband is anything but.
As the years and marriages pass and her desire for love battles with her desire for individuality and independence, Zelma finds that the harder she tries to conform, the more her body resists. In truth, My love affair with marriage is not a love story, but a story about coming to terms with inner female rebellion. It is also based on Baumane’s personal experiences in finding love.
“But I wasn’t interested in making a film about my experiences as a Sign,” Baumane explains. “I wanted to make a film about my experiences as a human being. I want to share these very human feelings with other people. I want to communicate: “Here is what happened to me, more or less, and here is what I think” or “This is my story”. Can you relate to it? ‘”
She adds: “We don’t tell stories because we want to be pointed at ourselves. We tell stories to convey something meaningful. This is what I aspire to do with my work.
Baumane’s journey with My love affair with marriage actually started when she started writing a screenplay with her Swedish ex-husband, who was found to be gender non-conforming or, as they like to say, being a “gender-bending” individual. They are portrayed by Zelma’s second husband, Bo (Matthew Modine) in the film.
“I liked animating scenes with Bo,” explains Baumane. “There is a dramatic arc in their relationship, but they never lose their affection for each other or the interest in getting to know each other.”
And the desire between Baumane and his ex to dig deep and continue to get to know each other better was one of the reasons. My love affair with marriage has been conceived.
“It was a very dramatic story, because he was keeping this secret and I didn’t know or understand it at the time and it was a story I wanted to tell,” she explains. “But then my ex-husband said, ‘Well, why did we get married? Why did we want to get married? Why was it so important? And then I started going back and thinking, “Where does this idea come from that we have to get married?” Where does it start? which leads to another question of why we fall in love and, ‘What happens when we fall in love?’ If you want to find the answers to these questions, you have to look into human neuroscience and biology. »
It’s also how Baumane decided, when she officially began writing the screenplay in 2015, to make the ambitious choice of interweaving her story – replete with abstract imagery, symbolism and philosophy – with scientific facts. details on how chemicals in the human body dictate many of the decisions we make and the feelings we experience.
But not being a scientist and “not even inclined to science”, as Baumane puts it, the filmmaker had to learn neuroscience from scratch.
“That was one of the main reasons why writing the script took a year and two months and twenty-three drafts,” she shares. “And I couldn’t rely on my own expertise either. I had doubts if I understood correctly, so I contacted NYU professor Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D., and asked for help. We met four times for brain-boosting three-hour sessions where Pascal would question or tear up some of my research and send me back to my research table with his instructions. At the end, he gave me a compliment: “For an artist, you have a pretty good understanding of science.”
Baumane says having science as the backbone of her film was not only a risk insofar as it was not her area of expertise, but also a risk when she was trying to make a film that audiences can identify and hopefully connect.
“A lot of people, when they start to hear the science, just give a big yawn,” says Baumane. “So the challenge was to incorporate everything I learned doing research for a year and make it appealing. Luckily, animation is a particularly good way to integrate science into a story in a seamless way.
In 2019, when Baumane and his team began preparing to animate the biological parts of the film – where a voice of god (Michele Pawk) guides the audience through the chemical interactions that Zelma and other characters experience when certain lives of the events or powerful emotions take place – she once again began a long, long, nightly journey of research, scouring science graphics, trying to decide how to visually express the material in animation.
“I did some preliminary storyboards and was hoping to collaborate with an animator who wouldn’t be afraid of the challenge,” says Baumane. “We were lucky to find such a collaborator in Yajun Shi, who has a unique visual style and is also not afraid of science, as his father is a medical professional.”
Wanting to make sure her visuals were as accurate as her script, Baumane says she still needed to have the animations run by a real scientist. That scientist was Elizabeth Cox, editor of TED Talks Science.
“Elizabeth reviewed our twenty-four biology segments and made suggestions for corrections,” Baumane recalls. “There were only two instances where she categorically insisted that we needed to make major changes because there were new findings or new developments that refuted my 2015 scientific research.”
In short, the whole process was exhausting Baumane, who not only released very personal parts of his own story to the public for viewers to see and comment on, but also spent more time learning the science than most. animators traded in the profession. .
“There were times when I felt remorse for choosing to write biology into history,” she admits. “It was so painful and hard. I was walking around the studio tearing my hair out and biting my nails because I didn’t know how to proceed with one biology segment or another. The scenes with visual metaphors and transformations were really easy for me. In my mind, I just go into a feeling or a situation because the character and the images come without much effort. But every scene with the biology was a major challenge.
Baumane’s hair-pulling nights paid off; from sharing saliva to firing neurons and brain anatomy, she has beautifully animated depictions of the inner workings of the body during kissing, intercourse, menstruation, abuse, moments of anxiety and jealousy , as well as moments of happiness and sincere intimacy.
“My favorite biology segments are about oxytocin,” says Baumane. “You may have heard of oxytocin as the ‘love hormone’ but it has more complex purposes and actions and some of them can take us to the opposite of I could do an entire feature just on oxytocin and not exhaust half of what this hormone does.
Precision and visual appeal were certainly important factors in Baumane’s film. But promoting the conversation was equally vital since Zelma’s mother (mistakenly) believes that babies are broken marriages.
“I wanted people to say, ‘Oh, now I understand why I was like that, because oxytocin does this and that and that’s how this other thing is linked,’ and so on,” explains Baumane. “Falling in love and relating to others is part biological and part social, and I realized that a very private and personal experience is regulated by culture and society because of what experience is “supposed” to be.
Through My love affair with marriage, audiences are taken on a roller coaster ride with Zelma, wondering if love is merely a chemical reaction or an actual bond and whether marriage is a by-product of love or a duty bestowed on individuals by their parents or the society around them. In the end, the film shows that, whatever the answer, the importance of loving, accepting and protecting yourself comes first before offering love to another.
This is one of the reasons why Baumane chose the symbol of a cat to often represent Zelma in the film.
“I see humans as part of the animal kingdom, so when people in my films go from one emotional state to another, they can transform into an animal because an image of that particular animal shows their inner state better. than anything else,” explains Baumane. “The cat is the symbol of Zelma’s independence, her sense of sovereignty and her own agency. When violated, she becomes enraged. I chose the cat as Zelma’s spirit because I see cats as independent, self-sufficient, and able to defend themselves with any means at their disposal. You won’t be able to pet a cat if it chooses not to be petted by you. I often found myself animating it with a big smile on my face.
Victoria Davis is a full-time freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She reported many stories ranging from activist news to entertainment. To learn more about his work, visit victoriadavisdepiction.com.