By Ansharah Shakil, September 21 2023—
The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is one of the most anticipated annual events in Calgary through its role as a celebration of independent and local filmmakers. One of the most exciting aspects of the festival is the unique films it offers, from documentaries to arthouse films to animated shorts like The Girl with the Red Beret, a National Film Board of Canada selection. Director and animator Janet Perlman spoke about her excitement for the film to be shown at CIFF.
“It’s always fantastic to have a film accepted and shown in a festival with a live audience,” said Perlman.
The Girl with the Red Beret is a five-minute no-dialogue short film about the adventures of a young girl on the Montreal metro, set to Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s “Complainte pour Ste-Catherine.” Its gorgeous artwork illustrates how 2D animation remains a viable and vibrant medium that has been sorely missed in recent mainstream animation films.
“This film is a very funny series of events that happen in the metro in Montreal, but it really could be anywhere,” said Perlman. “It’s about public transportation, and how you end up in some car or bus with all these strangers in your city and people get on, people get off. You see all these people for a few minutes, and then they’re gone, never to be seen again.”
Vibrant, lively and irrepressibly entertaining, the film will have anyone smiling when they watch it. There’s so much occurring on screen at all times, but never in an overwhelming way, and the song is undeniably catchy. The eclectic, diverse and often humorous cast of characters in the film is a tribute to the residents of Montreal and its transit system.
Perlman depicts the mundane, concerning, exciting, irritating and lovely aspects of public transport — the connection of humanity — all equally well. The train is a character in itself and a multifaceted one.
“I find public transport, if you don’t have to wait too long and if it isn’t inefficient, pretty great,” Perlman remarked. “It’s good for our climate and our world.”
Some personal experiences of Perlman’s on the metro, which she rode when she was a young girl like the film’s protagonist, are even put in the film, like the time her hair was wrapped around the button of an old gentleman and had to be cut off so she could leave.
The whimsical nature of the film is reminiscent of the 2001 French romantic comedy Amélie, which describes the lives of ordinary Parisians as delightfully as The Girl with the Red Beret does for its cast and has the same magic, fairy-tale-like feel.
“I love that film,” Perlman said when asked. “There are really interesting characters and details [observed] in that film, and when I started this film, I became an official observer.”
The film depicts the titular young girl’s journey on the metro as she steps foot on the train in the winter and exits to the spring. In Montreal spring is like an autopsy, wrote Leonard Cohen. The winter has not killed us again! In the film, the animated cold of the beginning gives way to the flowers of spring as the girl’s journey ends — the spring is a joyous arrival, the literal light at the end of the tunnel.
“That’s some train ride, I’ll tell you,” Perlman said, with a laugh. “It’s a classic scene. There are things like this in every city, especially Calgary. I remember storms that have been so snowy that people were skiing on regular streets, just cause they could, just because everything was at a standstill. To me, spring is an optimistic part of the year, and I wanted to end on an up note.”
Sound design is tantamount to the film’s creation, from the sounds of the winter wind to birds chirping to the whistles of the film’s song. Development of the film’s plotline started with the song. The metro mentioned in the song is what inspired the film’s setting. Since the original song is only two minutes, it was re-recorded for the five-minute film with the voices of the extended McGarrigle family.
“I took various things that are mentioned in the song as elements in the story,” said Perlman. “I came up with the basic idea that we’re going along with this young girl on the metro for the ride as she goes from one place to another, but we don’t know where she’s going. All of these things go on around her but she never notices them, and nothing ever happens to her. It kind of breaks the rules of the protagonist in the story. Nothing happens to her, but all of these things happen around her, and we’re with her. The story is not really with her.”
Perlman hoped audiences would find happiness in the film and think more about the small things which happen around them.
“Look around you. It’s a rich life when you get on the public transit,” she said. “It’s full of interesting characters, not always wonderful characters for sure, but there’s a lot there to observe rather than staring at your phone, which I am also guilty of doing, but just look around and take it in. Mostly, I’d be happy if the film will make [people] laugh and [give them] a feeling of joy.”
The Girl with the Red Beret is showing at CIFF in the shorts collection Radiant Jewels on Sept. 24 at Eau Claire Theatre. The films in this collection can also be streamed online from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.
More information about Radiant Jewels and other exciting films can be found on the CIFF website.