Directed by Xi Chen| Reviewed by Debopam Deb Roy
Smithy is a beautiful 2D animated film that gives us a glimpse of the world of mice. The story revolves around the lives of toiling mice who sustain their livelihood through extreme hardship. There is an omnipresent fear of being hunted by owls, or at least that’s what the authority wants them to believe. Directed by Xi Chen, the film is an interesting take on certain socioeconomic spaces of the society.
Smithy, or as the name suggests, refers to a forge. We see the mice working in the forge as if they have been programmed to function that way. There is no scope for rest for the mice as they are under constant supervision by armed forces. On top of that, there is a pretext of a kind of “protection fee” that they need to pay the guards in exchange for protection from the predatory owls. As the film begins, the audio track catches your attention almost immediately. The flawless merging of jazz music with the sounds especially inherent of the factory draws your attention. While the narrative gradually flows into the factory scene, we see an owl entering the factory not as a bird, but accidentally carried as raw material for the furnace by a random mouse.
Post closing time, the mice huddle up in close quarters and blow out the torches that light up their homes as fast as possible. This is out of fear of the guards who patrol the streets at night. Eventually, a few mice fail to successfully blow out the torch in time. The guards barge in and one of the mice is exposed. The guard aims his rifle at the mouse and pulls the trigger a number of times. A feeling of remorse spreads like wildfire both on-screen and off-screen.
But to our utter surprise we find that the mouse is unharmed. It turns out that the mice had devised a clever plan to protect themselves from the guard. They teamed up with the owl that we saw initially at the beginning of the film and managed to scare away the guard successfully. This scene particularly becomes very important for the film. Taking a closer look will help us understand the film better. From the very beginning of the film, the living and working conditions of the mice is crucial in understanding the motive behind this piece of art. In today’s world, human labour is way undermined and undervalued. The workers of a factory get minimum wage and have to live in constant fear. Fear of losing the job, fear of dying. Thus we can see how tropes like death, fear, anxiety and suffering emerge out significantly in this film. On top of that, labourers are forced to pay taxes for their own protection and a secure future. These are a few of many such loopholes that are inherent to a perfectly functioning society.
The film can be viewed as a reflection of today’s society. Within the first three minutes the space becomes familiar and relatable to the viewer. Tropes like power, corruption, authoritarian oppression come clear to the viewer as one moves with the narrative. The film also highlights that sometimes in life the people we are scared of may not be the ones we need to be afraid of. Sometimes it is our protectors who can take up villainous roles. The selection of soundtrack and shot by shot editing both are equally commendable as they both affix specific dynamics which emerge beneficial to the movement of the narrative. However, I believe the scene where the owl enters the forge in a wheelbarrow came somewhat confusing to me. I am not sure whether that act was already a part of the entire plan devised by the mice, or whether the owl accidentally arrived there. Apart from that the fast paced camera movement, tight editing and musicality of the film is truly praiseworthy.
Smithy is a brilliantly crafted animated film that has true potential in raising concerns regarding the value of human life in today’s world along with it being an original film which is absolutely enjoyable.