SXSW 2011 Film Reviews

Convento

Documentary Feature
D: Jarred Alterman

Death becomes Dutch artist Christiaan Zwanikken. Or rather, it becomes considerably more lively in his hands. Working out of a 400-year-old Franciscan monastery in the hills of Portugal that he shares with his mother, Geraldine, and his brother, Louis, Zwanikken animates the skeletal or mummified remains of local fauna. It's not magic, although it could be argued that what Zwanikken is creating – via servo motors, spot welds, and tiny terrestrial deaths – exists on a glorious borderland between art, religion, and the mechanics of life itself. Aesthetically, it recalls both the shuddersome stop-motion of the Quay Brothers and the jittery mechanical cacophonies of Mark Pauline's Survival Research Laboratories, but with a lighter, gentler, and altogether more human touch. There's something deeply profound about both Zwanikken and his art. Surrounded by (living) animals – geese, a 25-year-old horse he calls "my best friend," his artist mother – Zwanikken's world is that rare collision of the surreal and the entirely natural. Both Darwin and Dada would be ecstatic.

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