“The Hunger Artist” is a strikingly animated but curiously fuzzy short based on a story by Franz Kafka. If this film is any indication, filmmaker Tom Gibbons either did not read his Kafka too carefully or he decided unwisely he could improve on the Czech master.
“The Hunger Artist” is a skeletal, sad-faced man who arranges to have himself locked in a storefront converted into an open air cage for a period of 40 days. During this time, he will not have any food. The cage is empty except for a ticking clock and the Hunger Artist stares silently out of his bars all day into the empty street beyond his self-made prison. A few weeks into his imprisonment, the man recalls an earlier version of the same stunt which was performed in a public square and emceed by a large, demonic jack-in-the-box puppet (and while I’ve never read the Kafka story, I suspect the jack-in-the-box did not figure in its plot). For some reason never defined here, the non-eating performer finished his earlier stunt with extraordinary sorrow. When the time comes for his release from the storefront cage, he refuses his liberty and works to starve himself to death.
Okay, so the film makes little sense. But “The Hunger Artist” offers a handsome array of CGI and 2-D animated effects, most notably the eponymous character who looks like a shaved-head Buster Keaton emerged from a POW camp and moves slowly amid a world populated by cut-out people who move in herky-jerky freneticism. It is not clear what is going on inside of his psyche, but the animation is so striking that it is easy to forget this story flaw and appreciate the genius of this particular creation. Special credit is also deserved for Blaise Smith’s music score, which echoes the inner pain of the title character and the chaos of his outer world brilliantly.
If Tom Gibbons is keen on Kafka, perhaps one day he can create an animated version of “The Trial.” If he kept to the original story with a high degree of faithfulness, it would be a killer production.