Film Review | When the Day Breaks (1999)

Film run-time: 9 minutes | Starring Martha Wainwright, Chaim Tannenbaum
Directed and Animated by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, Additional Animation by Martin Rose, Music by Judith Gruber-Stitzer

When the Day Breaks“, a 1999 short film by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, is a commentary on the fragility of life, the routine of living and the energy of a living world. Set in an anthropomorphized world of singing animals with human lifestyles, the film is a reflective tale of our quotidian qualities, that 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 create 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. Images are arranged in a free-flowing, fly-on-the-wall style, which cruise 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 causing 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 make 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 are 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 Ruby 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 provide moments of humour that underline our own modalities and material comforts (e.g. a fedora molded for a rooster’s comb; whole potatoes discarded for its peels, eaten 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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