Film Review | When the Day Breaks (1999)

When the Day Breaks“, a 1999 short film by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, is a comment on the fragility of life, the routine of living and the energy of a living world. Set in an anthropomorphized world of singing animals that embody human lifestyles, the film is a reflective tale about our quotidian qualities, which in their entirety take on near as much weight as the most significant events in our lives.

Drawn in a beautiful, kinetic mix of cel animation and rotoscoping techniques, Tilby and Forbis created a world that comes to life through a bevy of living sounds: water dripping; kettles boiling; cars whizzing by; the singing of electricity in the air. The images are arranged in a free-flowing, fly-on-the-wall style, which cruises through electric wires, tiny actions and cherished memories. In the latter, the memories that comprise of a rooster’s life are sped through, as though a soul in reminiscence, after he has died of an accident that becomes the catalyst which causes the protagonist, a gilt named Ruby, to re-evaluate her life.

A clever title play on the daily possibility of the unexpected, there is an interesting observation here: lingering on the half-eaten breakfast of the recently deceased rooster, Tilby and Forbis may be stressing the significance of the minutiae which makes up the bulk of our lives: shopping lists, butter on toast, a train ride, milk and cereal; these events which take up no special notation in our consciousness is suddenly revealed to be the minute joys of living that we collectively partake in.

The film additionally remarks on the sum of all energies, in a literal association by electricity, in which lives are revealed (or imagined), thus dispelling the specter haunting the protagonist in her consequence of witnessing a death. Casting animals in the roles of human beings may serve to further an inclusive view of living energy, as well as to provide moments of humour that also underlines our own modalities and material comforts (e.g. a fedora molded for a rooster’s comb; whole potatoes discarded for its peels, as cereal flakes.) “When the Day Breaks” is about the brevity of experience and the wonders of life, in the places we least expect them.

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