Manivald, a fox, is turning 33. Overeducated, unemployed and generally uninspired, he lives with his overbearing, retired mother and spends his days learning piano while she makes his coffee and washes his socks. It is an easy life, but not a good one. Their unhealthy co-dependence is about to collapse when the washing machine breaks down and Toomas, a sexy and adventurous wolf repairman, arrives to fix it, and them.
Manivald, a fox, is turning 33. Overeducated, unemployed and generally uninspired, he lives with his overbearing, retired mother and spends his days learning piano while she makes his coffee and washes his socks. It is an easy life, but not a good one. Their unhealthy co-dependence is about to collapse when the washing machine breaks down and in comes Toomas, a sexy and adventurous wolf repairman, to fix it, and them.
Tinged with typically absurdist Estonian humour, and featuring animator Chintis Lundgren’s faulty but loveable anthropomorphic characters, Manivald mixes the surreal and the heartfelt in its timely tale of an emotionally unnourished generation that continue to live with their parents well into their adult lives. The film pokes fun at the loving but sometimes unhealthy ties that bind parents and children, while celebrating the liberties of independence, self-discovery and growth.
A co-production between the National Film Board of Canada, Adriatic Animation, and Chintis Lundgreni Animatsioonistuudio, Manivald is Lundgren’s sly, quirky and refreshing take on the difficult and delicate bonds between a mother and son.
It’s not uncommon for animators—especially in productions for children—to use anthropomorphic characters, but it’s not as common for indie animators. Your work tackles contemporary adult issues, yet you use animals as protagonists. Why? What inspired you to use animal characters? What do you feel it adds to your work?
They’re simple to draw and I’m lazy. But also they’re easier to relate to than human characters, and that gives you a chance to laugh at yourself. Anyone can recognize themselves in a fox or in a rabbit, but if it was a bald man with a moustache, the character would only be relatable to other bald, moustached men.
You come from a country (Estonia) that has a long and rich history in animation, along with a reputation for making films that are considered by some to be weird and absurd. Is it a benefit or a burden to be grouped into that perception?
In general, I don’t mind being grouped into that perception, because I do agree that my films are weird and absurd. It becomes annoying only when it gets to the level that you’re being seen as a copycat of Priit Pärn, just because it’s hand-drawn, doesn’t look like Disney and is somewhat incomprehensible. Luckily that doesn’t happen too often.
Manivald deals with what seems to be a very contemporary issue: educated young adults living at home with their parents. What do you think has created this situation, and why did you feel this was a subject that needed to be explored?
I don’t think anyone really wants to grow up: I certainly don’t. Being independent is nice, but having to work nine hours a day is so boring. I was 25 when I got my first job, and I really didn’t want to, but my mother went bankrupt and moved to another country. I also tried to live without money, so I ate mouldy bread and drank cheap vodka for six months, but in the end it started to affect my health, and I decided to get a job.
I and my co-writer, Draško Ivezić, decided to explore this topic because we know quite a few adults who still live at home, and we wanted to make something these friends of ours (or their parents) could hopefully laugh about. Hopefully it will scare them into moving out.
A unique aspect of the Manivald story is the straightforward way in which sexuality is explored. Manivald is gay. His older mother appears to be quite sexually liberal. Toomas is a bisexual married man. Yet, sexuality is secondary. There is no judgement. This is just who these people are. Was it important to you to avoid making a big deal out of sexuality? Some might say, “Well, why does he have to be gay?”
Yes, it was important. Making a big deal out of Manivald being gay (or his mother being sexually liberal) would mean presenting it as if it’s something that’s not really normal, and I think being gay (or sexually liberal) is totally normal, so why not treat it as such?
Most of your films are very distinct, visually. Aside from that rough and minimal design that people often associate with Estonian animation, all of your films are dominated by strong shades of red and brown (along with some white and black). There’s almost an earthy feel. What is the appeal of these colours?
Experiencing a perfectly balanced monochrome picture gives me a strange sense of satisfaction. I can’t explain why, but having too many different colours in one frame disturbs me. At the moment, I really like the combination of different shades of reds and pinks; I’m not sure why, I just like it. I probably also spend way too much time on this.
The film leaves room for further explorations of these characters. Do you have plans to revisit them?
Yes. Draško and I are developing a series called Manivald and the Absinthe Rabbits. It focuses on what happens to Manivald after he has moved out. He ends up living in a clandestine gay bar called “The Hedgehog’s Closet.” The place is managed by a cross-dressing hedgehog, Tiit, and his wife, a bear named Brunhilda. Brunhilda is very conservative and hasn’t noticed that it’s a gay bar. Or that her husband is a cross-dresser. Brunhilda is having a secret affair with a local policeman, Herman, a grumpy rat from my previous short film, Life with Herman H. Rott. He has just broken up with Cat and is kind of upset. And then there are the Absinthe Rabbits, who are always drunk and sing silly songs.
Additional animation and backgrounds
Story editing consultants
Foley and voice recording
Accordion & piano
THE PARK STUDIOS – BRIGHTON
ROSALINA DI SARIO
CHINTIS LUNDGREN (CHINTIS LUNDGRENI ANIMATSIOONISTUUDIO)
DRAŠKO IVEZIĆ (ADRIATIC ANIMATION)
JELENA POPOVIĆ (NFB)
CHINTIS LUNDGRENI ANIMATSIOONISTUUDIO
THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA