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Review: Window Horses — The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming 

The animated film screens June 2-8 at Zeitgeist

click to enlarge rosie-dietmar-at-mic-1.jpg

Maybe it's a reaction to the shrill, contentious tone of our public discourse today, or there could be something in the air. Whatever the reason, Asian-Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming's animated Window Horses — The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is the third major independent film about poetry to hit local screens this year. That is a lot of big-screen poetry in a short period of time.

  While both Jim Jarmusch's Paterson (about a fictional bus-driving poet in New Jersey) and Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion (an Emily Dickinson biopic reviewed in last week's Gambit) find inspiration in the power of artfully chosen words, Window Horses uses poetry more as a starting point for asking some of life's big questions. The film explores themes including identity, family and how cultural expression is passed from one generation to the next.

  It took nine years for writer-director Fleming to bring Window Horses to life, finally relying on a successful crowdfunding campaign to put the production over the top. But what else might one expect for an animated film about a young Canadian who travels to Iran to participate in a poetry festival? It would be hard to imagine a less commercial idea for even an independent feature film. But Fleming beats the odds with a quietly charming and inspired work that deserves a wide audience.

  The star of Window Horses is Stick Girl, a visually spare character Fleming has used as a stand-in for herself in films and other projects for 30 years. Stick Girl functions here as an actress in her first feature role, a budding poet named Rosie who was abandoned by her Iranian father when she was 7.

  Voiced by award-winning actress Sandra Oh (who also produced the film and championed it in its early stages), Rosie is a blank slate, largely unfamiliar with poetry other than her own, or the Iranian and Chinese cultures of her ancestors. An invitation to Iran transforms Rosie's concept of the world and allows the film to depict the history and art of Iran in an organic and appealing way.

  As crafted by lead animator and designer Kevin Langdale, Window Horses' animation evolves over the course of the film from simple line drawings to far more elaborate textures and images, all to reflect Rosie's rapidly expanding world. Sequences devoted to specific stories from Persian history and culture are handled by a variety of guest animators, each demonstrating a unique and striking visual style.

  The film reaches an artistic peak with a gorgeous, almost monochromatic sequence by Iranian animator Bahram Javaheri depicting the life of the great 14th-century Persian poet Hafez. Contributions like these serve as literal embodiments of the diversity and cultural cross-pollination espoused by the film.

  Though Rosie's journey of self-discovery began long ago in Fleming's imagination, it arrives at a time when the need for tolerance and respect for cultures and perspectives other than our own looms larger than ever before. The apolitical Window Horses is a soft-spoken film with a big, important message for all. Maybe poetry is the ideal place to start.

Window Horses (Trailer) from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.


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