Screens at CIFF: 10/7 & 10/8
World premiere: 30 September, 2011, Biarritz Latin Film Festival

There is something about animation: a way it has of making everything it touches seem more creative and abstract, maybe, with the result being that stories which would be entirely uncompelling in live action get to cheat their way into respectability solely because they are being played out by drawings instead of people. This, at any rate, was my chief feeling about Fat, Bald, Short Man, which certainly doesn't present a bad story, just a completely straightforward and uninventive one, though the central character is perhaps sufficiently well-executed that he'd be able to support the movie. But coat the thing in a cartoon shell, and suddenly it becomes much harder to shake it off; for after all, there's something undeniably weird about the tale of a lonely office worker being told through a medium rarely used for anything that hews so close to realism.

The fat, bald, short man is Antonio Farfan (voiced by Álvaro Bayona), a functionary at a notary's office who has concluded that with those three strikes against his appearance, he's doomed to never have anybody ever love him ever, and has retreated into a quiet, unassuming nest of shyness as a result. Two things occur at the same moment that shatter his complacent life: his office is given a shake-up in the form of a new manger, Mr. Enriquez (Fernando Arevalo), who looks almost exactly the same as Antonio and yet has nothing but self-confidence, happiness, and a beautiful wife; he is accompanied by Nora (Marcela Mar), an attractive, nice woman who Antonio crushes on instantly.

I want to make it absolutely clear that by suggesting that Fat, Bald, Short Man is by and large a fairly obvious movie in nearly all of its story beats - we are not surprised in the least when Antonio begins attending anti-shyness class, when he finally stands up to his presumptuous, money-grubbing brother (Jairo Camargo), or when the genial and unexpectedly infectious musical score alerts us to his impending case of the self-satisfied happies - I am not also saying that it's ineffective. In fact, Bayona and director Carlos Osuna both obviously believe in Antonio quite a lot, and believe moreover in the redemptive possibilities of his story. The film never strives for and hence never achieves any quality other than being sweet, but at least it comes by its sweetness honestly.

And, of course, it's animated - and as I mentioned, never count animation out for giving even the most pedestrian everyday story a veneer of the otherworldly and imaginative. Particularly since the style Osuna and his animators employ is so very far from anything we're familiar with: thick black lines, solid blocks of primary color, and the characters' faces drawn as little else than crude lines for their mouths, black dots for their eyes, and sometimes a stroke here or there to suggest noses and cheeks. It is deliberately primitive, but the animators are able to coax out a huge variety of emotions even from something this pointedly simplistic, and the very fact that the characters are so plain, with little except their expressions to differentiate the white smudge of their face from the blue or orange smudge of the wall behind them, whatever emotion read in those expressions comes across far more intensely than it might otherwise.

That's the good side; the bad side is alongside its bold primitivism of design, the animation is also primitive in terms of movement, with every successive frame not quite matching up to the ones around it, giving every single character a constant stuttering, shaky feeling. It's used brilliantly at least once, when a character dies and becomes suddenly stock-still; but a little of this technique goes a really damn long way, and by the end of 91 minutes it has gone from annoying to tolerable and back to annoying. Or put it another way: I don't know that I've ever gotten motion sickness from a cartoon before. It's a picky thing, maybe, but not one you can easily ignore, and it contributes to the overall feeling that Fat, Bald, Short Man might have been a better short than it is a feature. But even as a feature, it's good more often than not.