The Big Muddy Film Festival of Southern Illinois University is a student-run international film festival that celebrates emerging and accomplished filmmakers and is dedicated to encouraging grassroots filmmaking in local communities. Students in the Big Muddy Crew are submitting reviews of films that will be shown at this year's festival, which runs Feb. 18 to 24. For more information, visit bigmuddyfilm.com.
"ICUCICU" by Guiliana Foulkes and Charlotte Hong is an experimental hybrid of stop-motion and live-action filmmaking that follows the friendship of two tween girls. In the whimsical and mystical fairyland in which they exist with twigs and flowers abound, the two play, argue, go swimming, and share baths together. They are best friends.
As the tweens move within this story, the narrator indicates a secondary tale. Their friendship is magnified through a neocolonialist lens. This narrative plays out through stop-motion animation, the narrator, and by way of screenshotted text messages between the girls. Gunshots play in the background of a playful bathtub wrestling match, and an animated grasshopper propped at the pool is suddenly stolen from its spot and thrown into the water. Seemingly small or unimportant incidents like this weave throughout the film to underline the ease in which colonialism may exist.
"ICUCICU" is divvied up into several segments: war, pestilence, famine and death. This decision allows the audience to fit the sequence of events into specific categories, which was especially helpful to me in developing my own opinion of the film. As the words, “war”, “pestilence”, “famine”, and “death” pop on screen, an ironically cheerful audience offers woos and applause. These moments establish and exemplify the tone of the film: eerily jovial. It makes sense, though, because the story outlines the consequences of naivety and disregard between best friends.
The film not only gives examples of implied imperialism, but also actual historical evidence. The narrator tells a story of invasion of Navajo land when Fairchild Semiconductor built a factory on it, and 10 years later when militant protesters seized the plant, Fairchild set its sights abroad. This is important because the audience is exposed to real-life ramifications of imperialism that reinforce the ones in the fantasy-like setting in "ICUCICU."
In the final seconds of the film, attempting to mimic text messages between two undetermined individuals, “U win. R u happy now? I’m not sorry” are shown on screen. One can assume that this is a conversation between the tweens because they are the focus of the story, however, it is vague enough to allow for a much broader, global interpretation in accordance to neocolonialism and the seizing of land or a people.
One last example from the film is that both tweens show a competitive edge, arguing over who can hold their breath the longest. Competition is a historically common thread in colonialist history; imperialists fighting over land that is not theirs. The film seems to induce sympathy from the audience due to the girls’ perceived innocence. However, it highlights that innocence can indeed turn volatile, such as when the girls almost drown the grasshopper in the pool. At the same time, the film juxtaposes two very opposing worlds. The live-action segments identify a mystical wonderland where friendship may blossom; the stop-motion animation calls attention to a secret world of small creatures, like the grasshopper, who are simply trying to survive in a world not made for them.
At first watch, "ICUCICU" is a silly story of friendship as a vehicle for self-discovery and exploration. We come to find out, though, that this is not the case. It is about the not-so-collateral damage of neocolonialism and contrasts this with something relatable to all audiences: the naivety of youth.