CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 35 . . . . May 11, 2012
Flawed = Imparfaite.
Andrea Dorfman (Writer, Director & Animator). Annette Clarke (Producer). Kent Martin (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2010.
12 min., 28 sec., plus bonus 9 min., 43 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9910 717.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Julie Chychota.
I have a theory that we connect through self-exposure and vulnerability, and in any relationship, be it an intimate relationship or a friendship, or within a family or in a community, I think that’s how people get close. (Andrea Dorfman.)
Flawed is an animated gem, endearingly sweet and funny, and incredibly profound. The narrative is based on the real-life evolving romance between an artist in Toronto and a plastic surgeon in Halifax. Through time-lapse cinematography, it describes how the two managed to sustain their long-distance relationship, in large part by exchanging handmade postcards.
Artist and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman wrote, directed, and narrated Flawed. Her voice-over relates the story as the illustrations take shape under her hand on uniformly sized sheets of paper, one after another. She draws first with pen and ink, and then fills in the outlines with watercolor paints, a technique which the accompanying Study Guide deems “Dorfman’s signature animated colouring book style.” Clean lines with minimal detailing and a simple palette of primary colors lend a childlike playfulness and lightness to a fundamentally serious topic.
The partnership of verbal and visual components takes viewers from the artist’s initial objection to dating a plastic surgeon to her contemplation of why his profession perturbs her. She wonders if he looks at her only to see a flawed individual—until she realizes that this feeling arises out of her own perceptions of herself, which date back to adolescence Most teenagers are insecure about some aspect of their appearances, and, in the narrator’s case, it was her nose; yet whereas a peer underwent a “nose job,” the narrator decided against it. After reflecting on the past, the narrator resolves to embrace her flaws, reasoning that they make her unique.
A perfect example of the way narration and illustration cooperate in Flawed occurs when the narrator draws up a list of pros and cons to the prospective long-distance romance. Under the “cons” heading, she first records the distance in kilometers between them. Next, she draws a cat, because, although her surgeon-friend has a dog, she considers herself a cat person. Finally, she depicts an individual holding a bottle labeled “art” in one hand and a beaker labeled “science” in the other. “Wasn’t that like oil and water?” she asks, remarking upon their professional differences. “Still, I just couldn’t get him out of my mind,” she muses, as her brush rapidly fills the “pros” column with a multitude of valentine hearts. Here and elsewhere in the video, Dorfman uses gentle humour to diffuse the tension of serious moments. That sense of buoyancy contributes to Flawed’s overall charm.
The DVD includes two short bonus videos entitled “Why” and “How,” the first just over five minutes in length, the second just under. In “Why”, Dorfman explains the impetus behind Flawed: while she wanted to make a film about children and cosmetic surgery, she felt it wasn’t fair to ask other people to reveal things about themselves if she herself wasn’t willing to exhibit that kind of vulnerability. She observes that the motivation behind cosmetic surgery often is “to fit in; so we don’t stick out.” Instead of perpetuating that attitude, Flawed means to challenge individuals to celebrate characteristics that make them “extraordinary.”
Whereas “Why” reveals the film’s emotional underpinnings, “How” reveals the technical. It provides the viewer a behind-the-camera glimpse of how the animation was crafted. Despite the illusion that Dorfman is spontaneously drawing and painting while simultaneously narrating, she, in, fact relied on time-lapse photography; consequently, the twelve-and-a-half minutes of footage that viewers experience actually took three months to produce. Also, of the twenty postcard pictures that make up the film, the artist recreated them anywhere between twenty and forty times to achieve the best match-up with the voice-over track. Nevertheless, Dorfman notes that “Animation is really conducive to telling this story,” for not only did it originate out of the artwork of the handmade postcards, but it also allowed her to extend the story into the past with ease. Additionally, though the choice of medium may be a happy coincidence, the translucence of the watercolors physically mimics the emotional transparency that the film advocates.
Background music plays an important role in establishing the atmosphere of the unfolding action. The marriage of Julia Kent’s “Dorval” to Flawed for that very purpose is nothing short of a match made in heaven. Kent’s compositions have been characterized as “‘elegant,’” “‘melancholy,’” “‘pensive,” and “full of ‘aching romanticism’” (www.juliakent.com), descriptions which ring true for the mix of “cello, omnichord, [and] found sounds” in “Dorval” (http://music.juliakent.com/album/delay). Only once does the easy flow of “Dorval” come to a halt: a pulsing tempo interrupts when the narrator recounts an incident concerning aerobics and body image. The rest of the time, Kent’s bittersweet strains alternate between elation and ruefulness, yet somehow always with an undercurrent of the optimism that permeates Flawed.
Although the DVD includes versions of the feature film in both of Canada’s official languages, the English version possesses the option to display Closed Captioning whereas the French version does not. Neither are the bonus materials Closed Captioned nor available in French. Going forward, one would hope that all NFB/ONF videos be made accessible to individuals with hearing disabilities in both official languages. It should be worth the additional expenses to attract more viewers.
Despite their close similarities, the French and English versions are not identical. For instance, in English, the artist’s first postcard to the surgeon chronicles that she purchased underwear and shoelaces, and fixed a flashlight. In contrast, the French version leaves out mention of the flashlight; the undies, however, are lace-trimmed. Also, the narrator’s chums, known as “Sherry” and “Belinda” in English, respectively become “Sophie” and “Beatrice” in French. A third example involves postage stamps: those pasted on the French postcards sport the Montreal Canadiens logo, whereas the English stamps bear nondescript designs The variances warrant mention not because they are of great significance, but because they subtly acknowledge cultural and linguistic nuances exist for curious viewers who wish to play “spot the differences.”
This feel-good film is both compact and versatile, packaged in a plastic-wrapped, lightweight cardboard folder. The accompanying printed “Study Guide For Grades 7–12” proposes that Flawed may be used as a teaching tool in “Healthy Living and Relationships,” “Health and Personal Planning,” “English and Language Arts,” “Media Literacy,” “Fine Arts/Visual Arts,” and “Family Planning.” Moreover, it details learning objectives and questions “for Discussion or Research” to pose before, during, and after screening. The guide even suggests complementary activities for each of the categories above. Compared to the reasonable home price of Cdn $14.95, the corporate price of Cdn $79.95 for schools and libraries may seem steep; however, given that the video’s target audience spans five grades and that its content pertains to at least six subjects, it’s a solid investment. As well, its positive message is sure to resonate with viewers older than the target audience.
Julie Chychota lives in Ottawa, ON, and facilitates communication for individuals with hearing disabilities by capturing speech as text on her trusty laptop.
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