Deposit for the Courier, Directed by Mavskegg
Deposit for the Courier, an animated film by Ukrainian independent filmmaker Mavskegg, displays mastery of the art of storytelling through animation, bringing to life a sci-fi thriller of crime and deceit set in the dystopian American urban landscape of the year 2050.
The film’s protagonist is an unnamed woman ‘courier’ who, dressed in tight-fitting, shining futuristic clothing that gives the clandestine aura of Angelina Jolie-esque feminine power, happens upon a navigation device abandoned in the desert that leads her to an empty and technologically advanced dome-shaped building amongst deserted sand dunes.
Within, the navigation device leads the courier to a hidden suitcase which, when opened, reveals dozens of metallic, shining, rectangular devices, each with strange symbols and lights. The nature of these devices is at first unknown to the viewer, but our protagonist examines just one, and snaps the suitcase shut in apparent recognition of the significance of her find.
Upon nightfall, the courier has returned via a lone road to a bustling futuristic metropolis, while back in the desert two thugs arrive, one older with clenched jaw, leather jacket, and dark mafia-esque fedora hat and the other enormous and menacing. They find the same tracking device discovered hours earlier by the courier, only now its screen has been smashed and the device abandoned outside the strange desert structure. They discover, too, a single tyre track embedded in the sand, leading away from the domed building and the smashed navigation device: evidence of the courier’s motorcycle.
It is here, many minutes in, where we hear the first dialogue of the film. ‘This is traces of the motorcycle, the traces of money’, says the older man in a thick American accent (voiced by Phil Baker). ‘Whoever he is, there’s only one road, and it passes through the city’. The younger man responds menacingly with a rough ‘let’s go’. In a black SUV the two men speed through the desert and over the same bridge traveled by the courier to reach the city, and the chase ensues.
The most impressive aspect of this film is the manner in which the action is rendered into animation. From the very first shot one experiences the movement of three-dimensional bodies through the artificial space of the programmed desert in such a way that brings attention to the unnerving reality of the space. This is especially true regarding the physicality of objects in the space, whose texture moves to the fore in each scene, often superseding the action of plot and characters that result from their spacial interactions.
Director and producer Mavskegg makes the excellent cinematic choice of accentuating these textures throughout the film. He has treated the courier’s motorcycle as a character in its own right; its metal skin glistens in the hot desert sun, subtly scarred, undoubtedly from the grating of desert sand winds and the circumstances of transportation in the year 2050. The courier’s body suit, too, glistens with a shining organicism that evokes its own animated reality. Light drives the images on the screen in each second, reflecting, shimmering, accentuating: everything glistens, glows, and seems even to breathe at its own tempo; the physical textures make for a fascinating study in animation in its own right, and candy for the eyes.
The camera angles are so dynamic and cinematically appropriate that one almost forgets that the camera is itself programmed as a visual display. This means, of course, that the urban shots from helicopter heights detailing the dystopian urban metropolis, the gliding camera motions that scale skyscrapers, the fast cuts that follow the action — all are impressively shot (programmatically) within the animation itself. Even in the choice of camera angles, Mavskegg manages to mimic reality; in some sense he even surpasses it with the impossible perfection of these shots. The camera documents even the desert dust that materialises in the air from the courier’s galloping motorcycle, and our view shakes with each bump of the dunes, following courier, motorcycle, and desert dust — all significant elements of the screen’s tapestry.
But in the urban landscape documented in these shots, there is studied imperfection: a darkness, a grittiness, and an eery, dystopian capitalism whose bright, sterile lights accentuate rather than counterpose the city’s darker corners. In the city’s twisted alleyways and crevices creep mechanical monsters whose purpose could only be clear to the urban denizen of the future. Scenes that frame futuristic social spaces (even futuristic shopping) create the realistic effect of an economy, a culture, gone mad in an accentuation of its present self.
The appealing texture of the animated physicality extends also to the characters themselves, whose animated faces glisten each time the camera faces them directly. The courier’s face is especially important as a thematic tool in the film’s plot, and so the illumination of her unmasked face provides the opportunity to animate her, too, through the glistening of sun and the animation of skin.
The film’s sound is distinct for its purposeful absence of a soundtrack, which creates the effect of accentuating every movement of the film’s characters. Each step echoes from the cavernous interiors of the metropolis, and the physical interaction of objects creates beautiful textures with sound — all without a soundtrack. Instead, the soundtrack becomes the ambient voice of the urban landscape itself, packed with people and the white noise of urbanity, the humming of a dystopian capitalism.
Plot-wise, the film falters in its mystery. There is simply too much of it. While some of it seems studied and appropriately purposeful, too much is left unknown to the viewer. Suitably, the courier goes unnamed: we do not know who she is or why she is in the desert, and this creates an aura about her that feels appropriate to her character as an unnamed though entirely visible presence in the film whose centrality drives the plot forward. She never even utters a word. But when this kind of narrative device extends to other characters too — even to the entire plot line — then too much has been left to the imagination where there should be more explanation.
The prevalence of masterful visual imagery sans dialogue over the film’s plot is a good choice for the medium, which allows for the rich depth of texture, and is rightly accentuated. But in the few moments when there is dialogue, it bemuses more than it contributes to an understanding of the plot. The dialogue between the two thugs adds an important dimension to the film’s plot, but it could add more, with less confusion and more purpose. We are left wondering how they track down the courier in the massive metropolis, how they’ve ended up in a ‘hotel’, and how they eventually discover her gender. The plot would have been stronger with more meaningful dialogue that gave the viewer more to grasp. Unfortunately, dialogue is also a weakness for the animation in this film, as the characters’ mouths fail to line up convincingly with the words they speak.
The action scenes are well done and exciting to follow, especially with the elegantly controlled motion of the virtual camera. This is a stronger aspect of the film, and rightly takes up a significant portion of its attention to show off the capabilities of animation to illustrate intense human movement. However, here too the animation is sometimes shaky: while there are great moments of slow motion, deliberate movement, as well as fast chase, these movements are sometimes jumpy and unnatural. The complexity of the animated action forgives these shortcomings, but they do detract from the more realistic aspects of the film. And finally, while the film’s exploration of future monetary systems is interesting, the film’s description on its website as an exploration also of ‘the issue of women’s shopping passion in conditions of chase’ is strange and sexist.
Deposit for the Courier creates a beautiful animated space and a virtual canvas of rich colour and texture. It is a joy to watch for the animation itself, and the plot is mysterious and tantalizing in ways that remind one of the sci-fi crime of Hollywood. There are spaces for improvement, however: in a thriller like this one, the plot cannot be completely subordinated to the aesthetics of the screen. ■
Runtime: 11 minutes
Genres: Animation, Short
Find out more
Find out more about this film from its website and its page in the Internet Movie Database. The trailer is available below, and the entire film is available on YouTube. Learn more about Ukrainian music video director, film director, fashion designer, and artist Edward Mavskegg — known professionally as Mavskegg — from his encyclopaedia page in Wikipedia and from his website.
In addition to Deposit for the Courier, Mavskegg has directed the short films Day of Worker, Sugar Garden Secret, and The Ball. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Special Merit Award for his music video Heal Me and a nomination for Best Video Art for The Creature, both from the Open Cinema International Short and Animation Film Festival in Saint Petersburg. His music video Otra Noche En La Viruta for Otros Aires was included in a nomination for ‘Best Europe’ at the BBC Music Video Festival in Greenwich, U.K. He has also directed music videos for Hocico, Implant featuring Jean-Luc De Meyer of Front 242, In Strict Confidence, Paradise Lost, Attrition, and Björk.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: A scene from ‘Deposit for the Courier’. Deposit for the Courier.
This film is the 2015 recipient of the Atlas Award for Best Animation.