Photo: KimStim
Before We Vanish by Ayeen Forootan Film

The Wolf House | Cristóbal León & Joaquín Cociña

June 1, 2020

The Wolf House is a darkly magical fairy tale of arthouse cinema.

To describe a film as magical may be a usually empty judgment, but in the case of Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña’s The Wolf House, it is, in fact, fitting. It is a film in the vein of visionaries or even illusionists, part of a lineage that can be traced back to the Mélièsian origins of cinematographic art. Here, the two young directors combine the mood and tone of children’s stories with political satire subtext and lead viewers into an immersive wonderland of nightmares and dreams. León and Cociña apply and mix a variety of techniques from pencil drawings to color paintings, but mainly stop-motion, to construct a singular world where everything is always evolving from one moment to the next. Shapes, figures, objects, patterns, and color splashes appear, disappear, and reappear, expanding the spatial potentialities within the boundaries of the strange small (doll)house where the film’s female protagonist (Maria) takes refuge after escaping a German colony of brainwashing and suppression, and a fiendish wolf that attempts to hunt this Red Riding Hood of sorts.

In the same manner, the puppet characters are also under permanent transfiguration and metamorphosis. Their bodies transform, are wounded, dismembered, and burned, become shattered, fall into collapse or melt away. Their faces change, and they shift sizes as if, while undergoing political instability or suffering from unseen malevolent forces, they become deprived of their true existence and essence. Although, at first, Maria appears as a symbolic mother-figure of divinity and faith who miraculously turn her two piglets into human children and brings candle-lights, dance, and music to this haunted house of doom and gloom, it is not until the end that we find that her presence doubles as a device in the apparatus of colonialism. But even as the finale represents an ironic not so happily ever after, still remnants of hope remain: that while oppressive systems might be able to destroy the physic, the magic of hearts and souls remain and matter.

Published as part of May 2020’s Before We Vanish.