(France 2019; Dir: Nadja Andrasev)

Symbiosis

Patterns of modern jealousy

review by Līga Požarska

Symbiosis

original title: Symbiosis

length: 10

year of production: 2019

country of production: France

director: Nadja Andrasev

production: Emmanuel-Alain Raynal, Pierre Baussaron, Orsolya Sipos, József Fülöp

director of photography: Balázs Varjú Tóth

editing: Judit Czakó

sound: Péter Benjámin Lukács

music: Mads Vadsholt

festivals: SXSW 2020, Annecy 2019, Slamdance Film Festival 2019, KROK International Animated Film Festival 2019

© images: Symbiosis (Nadja Andrasev)

Hungarian animator Nadja Andrasev’s animation film ‘Symbiosis’ brings a story of a deceived wife, who begins a bizarre investigation of her husband’s infidelities. What starts off as jealousy, grows into scrupulous research, bordering with voyeurism. The wife follows the cheater, tracks down his numerous lovers and starts to collect a freakish scrapbook of evidence.

The story draws a comparison between jealousy and jungle, depicting the betrayed wife in her husband’s tropical hunting field. Little do we know that this animal planet is actually ruled by female hunters, while the guy passively enjoys and obeys.

Visually ‘Symbiosis’ is an aesthetically pleasing film: bright precious stone colours – emerald, ruby, sugilite purple – dominate and strongly contrast the film’s otherwise ascetic surroundings. Despite being highly decorative, images are decluttered from unnecessary embellishments, leaving place solely for the items that serve a purpose.

The animators have created an urban environment with high skyscrapers, whose windows serve as walls, captivating each character in a glass shell. Regrettably, this couple's modern minimalistic apartment goes together with their modern minimalistic marriage. Is this what some relationships have come to – treating spouses as distant roommates? The absence of dialogue adds to the lack of communication between the couple. The only rare emitted sounds in ‘Symbiosis’ are distant chattering and a routine “hey”.

By diluting animation with real-life images from women’s booty call (tinder?) photos, ‘Symbiosis’ breaks the wall between an animated illusion and realistic adultery. This feeling is reinforced by the lack of character identification. Unnamed heroes remind that an abstract case can easily become a The New York Times Modern Love column or a cautionary tale exchanged between friends during a gossip night.

In ‘Symbiosis’ mistresses are associated with insects, birds and cats of prey (mostly tigers). The scratch marks on her husband’s body show just how wild these creatures can be. Nevertheless, a great deal of attention is given to “humanizing” them – the audience catches a glimpse of their lives and somewhat sad eyes. Andrasev hasn’t portrayed “the other women” in a bad light, nor the protagonist in a desperate and hysterical one. She is strategically acknowledging the situation. Besides, the more she investigates the more she tries to redirect her husband’s interest towards her. Regardless of that, her sensual nightgowns don’t arouse him: this man is hungry for new experiences and preoccupied with new bodies to discover. If he shifts his desire that easily, what made him settle down in the first place? The film doesn’t address their past, instead focusing on present action and reaction.

The wife often observes these extramarital liaisons as a lion, who stares at a gazelle, waiting for the best moment to attack. But she never seizes the opportunity, choosing not to confront her spouse. She remains with a straight poker face, possibly masterfully repressing pain and insecurity. On the surface she is not so much hurt or heavily dismayed as she is curious. Armed with a discreetness of a private detective and analytical skills of an anthropologist she meticulously studies the coded sentiments of text messages thus carefully constructing personality types. A scrapbook of evidence, consisting of such physical artefacts as hair, bikini wax stripes and underwear, allows drawing analogies with the animal world. Do they have softer “fur”? Bigger hips? Fertile genes? Do their pheromones trigger a stronger chemical reaction?

With the given subject matter it’s hard to avoid clichés. Andrasev chooses to play with them. The man’s portrayal is so vanilla – he is ordinary, without any character edges. Dull. However, the mockery of this cliché is an authentic approach, showing that the women are the ones orchestrating this parade, while the guy is still living in an illusion that he’s the eligible macho type. Hell, he’s too lazy to take all the necessary precautions when it comes to hiding his affairs. Lack of guilt makes this particular infidelity even dirtier.

In one of the followings the wife traces the husband to a more perverted ‘Eyes Wide Shut’-type of gentlemen’s club. Another time she observes him getting lucky in the zoo’s tropical house. Apparently, her beloved one is into kinky stuff. Yet he is numb when it comes to his own wife’s sexuality. The unevenly shared blanket in their marital bed illustrates the distance between them.

The journey of the protagonist takes different turns and twists. Jealousy triggers research, research triggers comparison and comparison results in attempts to save the marriage and recreate the sparkle. Unsuccessfully. Symbiosis-wise the relationship between the couple turns out to be misbalanced and disadvantageous, whilst the strange connection between all the involved women can be seen as more symbiotic and mutual.

This statement traces the film back to the opening sequence where the protagonist lets a mosquito suck her blood rather than killing the parasite. After seeing that mistresses themselves are lonely and dissatisfied, proving that her husband fails their desires, the nameless wife makes her piece with these ‘species’ the same way she does with the mosquito. Strange coexistence.

'Symbiosis' was elected the Audience Favourite during the second week of My Darling Quarantine Short Film Festival.