Annecy 2018: 'Seder-Masochism' is Animated Judaism Musical Hilarity
by Alex Billington
June 15, 2018
What have I stumbled upon?! What is this genius work of cinema?! Seder-Masochism is the new film by filmmaker Nina Paley (of Sita Sings the Blues previously) and it's totally amazing, brilliant, and hilarious. It's very hard to describe the film, but I will try. Seder-Masochism is an animated exploration of Judaism, featuring Moses and a few other characters singing and dancing to various pre-existing songs (of all kinds). I could almost describe this as fun animated YouTube short extended to a full-length feature, but it deserves more credit than that. It's also a personal film for Nina, as she interviews her father about her upbringing and his views on Judaism, while taking us on a journey into the history of Moses and the Book of Exodus.
Paley's Seder-Masochism is one of the most unique and creative films I've seen at the Annecy Film Festival. It's not exactly perfectly polished and the animation is all done by Paley herself, which makes it feel a bit low budget at times (compared to studio features where hundreds of people work on the animation). But that said, it's still immensely entertaining and weird and wacky and amusing. I honestly have to admit that I am sure that Paley is a genius, as she not only wrote & directed the film but animated it, showing her ingenuity and talent. There's so many subtle details and ideas worked into the film - it's not only about Judaism, it's about patriarchy, and Mother Earth, and how ridiculous religion is. And how history is written by the men.
The 78-minute film is so much fun and the music she uses throughout is just as hilarious as the stories she's telling. She utilizes a mix of well-known pop songs and spoken word parables and classic rock and all kinds of toe-tapping jams, animating the characters (and historical trinkets) in sync with the songs. She could host dance-off screenings of the film, and it would make the experience even better, because it's that much fun to watch. Most of the ideas she's discussing are worked into the film through the animation, with the way the characters intertwine and twirl and melt into each other. Her animation style is fairly 2D rudimentary, but I have to say I still laugh looking at the character design for Moses - with his robe and beard. It's just perfect.
The more I think about Seder-Masochism, the more I love this film. And the more I want other people to see it. Everyone is going to have their own unique experience watching it, and that's what makes this even more special. Some sequence or some scene might connect with you more than another. Some part of it is going to make you laugh more than another. Some people are going to be very upset by it. Some people are going to flip for it. Nonetheless it's a one-of-a-kind creation that should be celebrated for its artistry and intelligence. There's messages and meanings hidden in the animation, and some may want to spend time deciphering it. While others will just enjoy the film for what it is: an amusing animated musical about Judaism and Exodus.
Alex's Annecy 2018 Rating: 8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing