Cyberpunk has been around since the early to mid-1980’s, and has long since become just another pop culture well that genre filmmakers return to time and again. As such, it would seem to have run dry by now, seeing as how cyberpunk imagery has become an integral part of the dystopian sci-fi filmmaking language. Video games have also made extensive use of such stories and settings. However, like so many other fantasy genres, cyberpunk has much more to offer than what has previously been shown, even if just in a superficial or visual sense. In fact, the imagery is probably best suited by no dialogue at all in some cases. Jesús Orellana’s animated short film Rosa likely would have thrived in the silent film era, since it functions mostly as a beautifully rendered dream.
A cybernetic being named Rosa awakens from an extended hibernation. She is a child of the Kernel project, and as such is charged with rejuvenating the earths collapsed ecosystem. As she wanders through the desolation, she is spied upon by other such beings. However, her counterparts mean not to aid her mission, but to impede it. They do so violently, yet Rosa pushes on until the bitter end.
Rosa is an animated short film of the computer generated variety, yet it’s wholly unlike anything attempted by Pixar or Dreamworks. It was conceived and created by comic book artist Jesús Orellana over the course of a year. It feels exactly like a work of art that is driven by a single vision as opposed to a collaborative effort. It tells its story completely through visuals, offering nothing in the way of expository dialogue or voice over. Though it isn’t abstract or surrealist in the strictest sense, it does invite individual interpretation. It’s also derivative, though not negatively so. Like many of the most worthy modern works, it draws inspiration from its creators many influences.
To say the film is visually striking would be an almost laughable understatement. Orellana takes more than a few cues from Ridley Scott, meshing the worlds of Alien and Blade Runner into a strange hybrid. The color palette is similar to the one used inside the downed spacecraft carrying the eggs on LB-426 in Alien. Everything looks like it was filmed with low lighting in a murky, algae covered fish tank. Dust and other particles float as though inside of a snow globe. The slow, deliberate movements of the characters add to this effect. The set design in one moment shows a bunch of houses with vaguely Asian architecture organized in the fashion of Brazilian favelas. The clash of motifs and styles is striking.
The character designs add to the atmospherics. Rosa and her counterparts are walking Pinocchio metaphors. They are pale marionettes with biomechanical bodies that look like humans with the skin ripped off to reveal the raw musculature underneath. Again, the slow movements reinforce the puppetry metaphor. After the other two cyborgs stalk Rosa like a pair of Hyena, they engage her in lighting fast fisticuffs. The scene is as well choreographed as anything one is likely to see in a live-action martial arts film. It’s mostly a series of blocks and counter moves of the Wing Chun variety.
Through it all, there is a theme of life coming forth from death. This theme is manifested quite literally in both the storyline and the accompanying visuals. Rosa’s blood causes roses to bloom wherever it lands. Droplets of it turn into rose petals when carried by the swirling winds. She is, in essence, the life bringer. She is pitted against a couple of adversaries who are essentially destroyers. Even the “tragic” ending seems to give the message of beauty coming from forth from ugliness. The story can be summed up simply as the eternal struggle of polar opposites, in this case life and death.
Rosa is a short, yet very memorable piece of Cyberpunk storytelling. It adheres to the most basic rule of filmmaking: show, don’t tell. Even without the accompanying plot description it will make sense to even the most casual viewer. It also invites the audience to fill in certain blanks. As with any worthy piece of filmmaking, Rosa keeps ones wheels turning long after the end credits begin their ascent up the screen. Well done Mr. Orellana.
ROSA from Jesús Orellana on Vimeo.