“Marona’s Fantastic Tale”: Life Through a Puppy’s Eyes Ain’t Something to Bark About

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As Mr. Bob Dylan noted last week in a rare interview: “Good news in today’s world is like a fugitive treated like a hoodlum and put on the run.” Substitute “a French puppy” for “good news” and you basically have the plot of Marona’s Fantastic Tale, a tale of urban life with all the ups and downs of canine/human romance.

Yes, here, in one of the more beautifully animated features released in many a year, director/ writer Anca Damian chronicles the life of Nine. Nine, as you might have guessed, earns her moniker by being the ninth and final puppy born to a rather sexy mixed-breed mom and a racist pure-bred dad. But that isn’t how the story starts.

Sadly — but not for us — we meet Nine with her heart-shaped nose right after she is hit by an auto, winding up as “a mere smudge on the asphalt.” As her final owner, a self-centered teen, Solange, kneels by her side, the injured mutt decides to “take a moment to rewind the film of [her] life.”

And what a varied life it has been, as varied as the names she’s been given: Ana, Sara, Morona. Then there are her “owners”: Manole, the acrobat; Istvan, the oversized construction manager and his mean-spirited gal pal; Istvan’s deranged, heavily medicated mother; and finally the aforementioned Solange and family, which includes a disagreeable feline and a worse grandpapa. There are also run-ins with dogcatchers, catnaps in garbage cans, and days of hunger: “I sank into an endless night.”

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Without having read Sartre’s No Exit, Nine discovers on her own that hell can be other people, except for those who love her, and they are problematic, too. She notes that “happiness is different for dogs and humans. We want things to remain exactly the same. As for humans, they always want something new.”

What might sound like a familiar trope is brought to several other dimensions by the surreal, undulating artistry of Brecht Evens and his character designs plus by Gina Thortensen and Sarah Mazzetti’s vibrantly detailed sets. Under Damian’s astute direction, the nine planets frequently swirl overhead throughout Nine’s journey as she traipses by a passerby who might have the head of a fish or who just be a be a bunch of walking uninhabited clothing. Throughout, limbs stretch and contort, flying this way and that, faces crumble and reassemble, and every artistic phase from early Picasso onwards seems to be reflected here with quantum fluctuations of line.

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As a mere dot in this frequently uncharitable landscape, our heroine seeks to restore a lost sense of wholeness to her world that can only be found with another caring soul. Her credo are the words her mother shared with Nine shortly before she began to woof: “Everyone has a right to love and a bone.” Has any film ever had a more noble message?

[Starting this week, the film, which played in competition at the Annecy International Film Festival, and won the Animation is Film Special Jury Prize last year, has been made available at MaronaMovie.com through virtual cinema partner links. In addition to the film, exclusive to the virtual release includes additional interview content with director Anca Damian.]

Brandon Judell has published in The Village Voice, The Advocate, and 50 or so other outlets. He is currently a lecturer at The City College of New York.

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