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June 1, 2011

Movie Review: Bianca (2011)

Tom Steeber's "Bianca" is that rare cinematic beast: something I have never seen before. It is at once thoughtful, disturbing, horrific and moving. The fact that this smart and disturbing tale is told in animnation only heightrens its creepiness, and gives it an atmosphere unlike anything else. It got under my skin.

Buy Bianca on DVD

Bianca tells the story of Glen, a regular, average-looking guy who catches the eye of Bianca, a beautiful but enigmatic girl that he meets at work. Bianca is sweet and sincere, and never thinks even for a second that she is out of Glen's league. But there is an oddness about her that is hard to peg. However, Glen, thrilled that such a beautiful woman is attracted to him, allows himself to be swept up. At their first sexual enounter he learns her secret. She has a bizarre sexual fetish that I don't think I've ever heard of before. It invovles a razor, and that is as much as I can say without giving too much awy. Suffice it to say that the sex scene is as distrubing as anything I have seen all year. It starts out making you laugh, and ends up making you cringe.

The tale weaves its way to a satisfying conclusion that is not explotive or sentimental, and left this viewer with conflicting feelings, both sympathetic and disturbing. Not a simple thing for a filmmaker to pull off.

Writer/Director/Star Tom Steeber uses photographs of himself and the other actors, which are then animated on backgrounds both drawn and photographic. The animation is very basic, alternating two images in jerky fashion to accomplish most of the charater actions. It sounds cheesy, but it works to give the film a unique look and atmosphere. It is difficult to explain, but had this story been told in traditional live action, I doubt it would have had nearly the same impact.

Bianca herself is the only character not played by a human being. She is a Barbie-like fashion doll. Since she is seen as a sex object by most of the characters, who never want to take the time to learn who she really is, the choice to use a doll is so compelling that it borders on brilliance. The only cinematic equivialnt that comes to mind is Todd Haynes' "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story." But that also-disturbing film uses fashion dolls for all of its characters. Juxtaposing the dolls with photographic human figures is far more creepy. And makes the above-mentioned sex scene into a disturbing enigma that has no screen precedent.

Bianca is only 20 minutes long, but tells it's tale copletely and satisfyingly. The DVD is now available on Amazon, and also includes one of Tom's earlier animations, "The Bellman of Briarwood Green." It's also well worth looking at.

Now for the disclaimers, lest people think this review is self-serving and biased. Yes, I appear in this film (or at least pictures of me do), very briefly. Yes, Tom is a personal friend, as are most of the people involved in this production. Yes, Tom and I are collaborating now on two projects - one with me as an actor, another from a piece I wrote. However - I would have liked this movie just as much if I had no idea who any of the people involved in making it were. I made no money for my minor work in "Bianca," nor will I see any money from it sales. I always speak my mind as a critic, as honestly as I can, and this time is no different. I like Tom and his work, it is always interesting and different than what most people are doing. But frankly, I had no idea he was capable of a piece as strong as this one. Sorry, Tom, but it's true.

"Bianca" is a gem. It is only cautious humility which keeps me from labeling it a masterpiece.

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