Directed by Bartek Kedzierski
Short film review by Joseph Banham
Woolen Cogwheels is a delightfully quirky-looking animated short with a bleak undercurrent. The stop-motion animated film was directed by the Polish filmmaker Bartek Kedzierski, who keeps his cards close to his chest until the very end.
The film stars an old married couple who live by themselves, with the exception of their bad-tempered cat. The old man appears to be an inventor, spending his days slaving away in his workshop, painstakingly trying to construct a mechanical arm for reasons unbeknownst to the audience. His wife spends the majority of her day swaying back and forth in a rocking chair, knitting vast streams of wool that extend all across the room. What is she making? We are not sure. Maybe it’s a big wooly jumper. But then again, maybe not. Every night, the couple sit apprehensively in front of their television staring at the screen, almost petrified, as they wait for midnight to strike. What are they waiting for? Again, we do not know.
If it sounds like I’m prevaricating in my description of the plot, it’s because I am cautious about giving away too much of the film’s latter half away. The film’s effect comes from its ability to subvert the audience's expectations, creating an uneasy mood that is extremely poignant.
The animation is very charming and bright, creating what looks to be a very neat, contented world. But looks can certainly be deceiving, and the homely aesthetic turns out to simply be the covering— a wooly jumper, if you will—wrapping up something a lot more grave. Woolen Cogwheels caught me off guard. The story goes in places that are completely unexpected from a film that, on its surface, emits all the cosy warmth and cuddliness of your Grandma’s knitting.
The film is initially slow to build, veiled in enigma and intrigue. Even when the answers do come, they are not presented in a clear and distinct way; instead, audiences may be left slightly baffled at what the film means, and it’s only with a second viewing that all the pieces fit better into place.
Obviously, part of the enigma comes from the fact that there is no dialogue. The short film’s two main characters communicate with simple murmurs and grunts, making them sound similar to characters on a children’s television programme, minus the cheerful narrator. Make no mistake, however, the film’s tone could not be less concerned with emulating pre-school entertainment, with director Bartek Kedzierski constructing scenes that are a lot more reminiscent of a horror film than of the likes of Bagpuss or The Clangers.
In a way, Woolen Cogwheels is a very meta animation. It features hand-crafted puppets who are intent on crafting things by hand—the old man is an inventor of machinery, with a workshop filled with gears of all shapes and sizes (the “cogwheel” of the title), while the woman spends her whole day compulsively knitting (“woolen”). The film is rife with mechanical sounds beeping, clunking, and whirring away as the soundtrack strikes similarly discordant notes. The sound of a ticking clock also features prominently, building an unnerving sense of pressure to the plot. It is a film about creating on every level, and the love and dedication people put into their art when they are driven by strong emotions.
Woolen Cogwheels is a great short film, filled with intrigue and emotional weight. It’s sweet visual appearance disguises its tragic themes at first, but then ends up accentuating them. For more film reviews of movies at this year's Cork Film Festival, visit our Festivals page.