"Inventively blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, Animals tells the peculiar story of Pol, an introverted music fan who still has conversations with his childhood imaginary friend, Deerhoof, despite now being in his teens. One day, Pol decides he has outgrown his pretend friend (who takes the form of a walking, talking teddy bear) and throws Deerhoof into the river. Now Pol must get by on his own, battling the pressures of high school, and attempting to understand growing feelings towards his enigmatic classmate Ikari."
Filmmaker Marçal Forés's debut feature is a very strange film (there's a walking, talking bear who speaks English to our Catalan-speaking lead), full of ideas and surprises, and beautifully filmed in the stunning mountains of Catalan.
Forés has assembled a strong cast, but the standout for me was Dimitri Leonidas as loudmouth classmate Mark. He's deliciously acerbic, and gets all the best lines ("I wouldn't mind getting raped by him," he matter-of-factly tells Pol and Laia on first seeing Ikari.) His mouthy character is a welcome relief from the suffocating introspection of Pol. It's a surprise to see Martin Freeman on board, in a small supporting role (Forés didn't realise "how famous" he was, he said in the Q&A). And then there's Deerhoof, whose disembodied voice is very odd.
"Frustrated by his dead-end day job in a call centre, thirty-something Ed spends his evenings trying to make a name for himself on London’s stand-up comedy circuit. One evening, following a particularly unsuccessful gig, he meets a confident young man called Nathan on the night bus home and the two immediately hit it off. But as feelings between the two men intensify, so does Ed’s relationship with his fragile flatmate Elisa, and soon he must face some difficult decisions about his life."
Like a lot of stand-up comedy, The Comedian is sometimes hard to watch. Take Edward Hogg, who plays Ed with simmering intensity; you really feel this guy's pain, and that's not easy to watch. But it's Nathan Stewart-Jarrett who really got my attention, a glittering jewel who somehow brings an incredible vulnerability to an outwardly tough character. He effortlessly steals the show. His first encounter with Hogg's character on a night bus is a subtle masterpiece, in which we feel like we're spying on a very private moment. There's a later scene - on another night bus, with some hoodrat girls - that's as ugly as that first encounter is beautiful, and left me genuinely shaken.
Unfortunately things trail off towards the end, with a very low-key, claustrophobic scene in a minicab that feels like treading water. It's a shame, because Tom Shkolnik's film is otherwise a fascinating, viscerally real view of London life in the 21st century.