With Anomalisa premiering in many US markets this month, I thought it might be fun to profile another adult animated film from last year you might have missed. Produced, directed, written, and animated by the artist Signe Baumane, Rocks in My Pockets is a challenging film that is definitely not for everyone, but I’m glad I saw it.
Signe Baumane is a Latvian artist, and Rocks in My Pockets profiles her family’s history with mental illness. Using paper-mache stop-motion and sketchy hand-drawn animation, Signe created over 30,000 drawings to tell the story of her family. Some may find it garish, but as an appreciator of complex art, I thought it was beautiful.
The story of Signe’s family begins with her Grandmother Anna who had eight children and was a severe manic depressive. She attempts to commit suicide at one point in a lake but doesn’t have the rocks in her pockets so her attempt fails. This scene is obviously brutal, but it captures the madness, panic, and strange peace that happen inside the heads of those dealing with mental illness. I have never had a serious incident like Anna, but I could relate to the panic and the way she described her mania.
We then learn about Anna’s eight children, and the Latvian proclivity for passing out pills to the mentally ill, particularly Valium and then putting them in asylums; thereby, either trying to dull or hide the problem rather than addressing it. I believe we are a little more advanced in the US but not as far along as we should be. The pills are helpful but can be over-prescribed, and the hiding and stigma still exist. Signe boldly reminds us of these problems.
Next we are introduced to four of Signe’s cousins, their struggle, and finally Signe shares her own battle with schizophrenia. I was particularly moved by her recounting of the birth of her child. It was a transcendent experience for her but even something as happy as that couldn’t take away her problems including postpartum depression.
Clearly Rocks in My Pockets is not for the faint of heart or those who don’t like something edgy and different. It is definitely vulgar, disturbing, and challenging to watch, but I found it daring and surprising. The animation is gorgeous and inventive. I loved how it moved; it felt like a sketch from inside Signe’s mind. Since all the stories are about women, the female bodies are intentionally drawn in a way so they look nude despite being fully clothed (except for one scene where a back is shown). You get a feeling Signe feels naked while drawing this story and that leads to her striking visuals.
As with any bold artistic film, Rocks in My Pockets is not perfect. Signe decides to narrate the film herself which with her strong Latvian accent comes off as robotic and very off-putting and since there is no other dialogue, that is unfortunate. I also don’t know if we needed to hear about every cousin, Signe, and the Grandma. It may have worked better as a short because as it is you leave the experience exhausted. You are stimulated and maybe even inspired but exhausted.
But all that said, probably my favorite part of the film is the ending. It does not give us any easy answers but says that sharing our stories is part of the solution. Signe says “Maybe it’s good to tell everybody so that they know what’s in their genes…It’s in the genes. You were designed to be crazy”. Maybe it is? Maybe we need to tell our stories and the stories of where we came from, so we get a better idea of how we are all ‘designed’. We can work together to overcome, even embrace these challenges whether it be in our mental or physical health. How great would that be?
The score by Kristian Sensini is also very strong and worthy of its message; it fits the tone of the film perfectly.
So if you are looking for something different and enjoy artistic, adult animation, then check out Rocks in My Pockets. I think you will really be moved by it and be glad you did. Let me know what you think in the comments section. It’s a film that should incite discussion so I will be curious to hear your response if any of you see it.
Edited by: Kelly Conley