With “Rocks in My Pockets,” Signe Baumane presents a sharp, surprising and funny animated feature, plumbing the depths of depression via her family history.
Guided by Baumane’s almost musically accented voice-over, this hand-drawn debut feature is based upon the mental struggles of her Latvian grandmother and other relatives. It’s told with remorseless psychological intelligence, wicked irony and an acerbic sense of humor.
Part questioning of received family mythology, part anatomy of melancholy, this idiosyncratic film treats what might seem to be unapproachable subject matter. But Baumane’s wry storytelling and keen figurative visuals produce an engaging act of empathy across generations.
With deceptively plain drawings and some papier-mâché, the story depicts her grandmother’s thwarted sense of self during her marriage to a charismatic, failed entrepreneur who fathers her eight children. There follows a daisy chain of tales about sufferers and suicides in what Baumane describes as her beleaguered gene pool.
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Miraculously, the film never sinks into bleakness, and that’s largely because of Baumane’s tendency to speak her mind, sometimes unpredictably. Her family’s sense of practicality is repeatedly rivaled by the cruel pragmatism of survival necessitated by mental illness: the “darkness visible” (as William Styron called it) that can remain invisible to others for reasons of ignorance or denial.
The bravery of Baumane’s own coping methods (which some may disagree with) brings her tough-minded film to a clear-eyed, forward-looking conclusion that doesn’t lose sight of her demons.