“I’m interested in eyewitness stories: the spirituality of the storytellers and their genuine belief in all the supernatural elements”

– The up-and-coming Polish animator delves into her Eurimages-awarded first feature, which focuses on an angelic being who roams our world

Barbara Rupik • Director of Cherub

When you watch The Little SoulBarbara Rupik’s festival-heralded 2019 short – you might wonder if David Lynch would be envious he didn’t make it; that Eraserhead baby definitely now has some competition in the stop-motion creep-out stakes. All of which makes it welcome news that her upcoming feature project Cherub was awarded a €20,000 Eurimages New Lab Award for Innovation at IFFR Pro’s CineMart (see the news). Rupik gave us a vivid description of the story, which follows the titular angelic being as he retrieves a dying girl’s soul, and dished out some details on how she aims to tell it.

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Cineuropa: There’s already a short plot description published, but could you share, in your own words, the story of Cherub and delve into some of its themes?
Barbara Rupik:
It’s an animated tale of a shape-shifting, angelic being, Cherub, who must find his way in an earthly world, where the mundane meets spirituality, in a combination of magical realism, the grotesque, musical and horror. Cherub descends into a forgotten village to claim the soul of a dying girl, yet it turns out that the girl has two souls: a good one and an evil one. The story is based on folk beliefs and superstitions, and one of the main themes is to show the balance and tension between good and evil, reflected in the relationship of the lost Cherub and the earthly world in which he is trapped. He seeks to cope with the new reality by trying to bond with birds and humans – species he appears to resemble. The pure, good nature of Cherub has to contend with the dark aspect of the story. He is constantly asking himself, “Wouldn’t it be better if there was more light than darkness in the world?” The film answers this question.

The idea for Cherub came from my love for folk tales and the forgotten sensibility contained in them. There is a connection between two worlds, the material and the spiritual, which are treated equally. The mundane part is as obvious as the completely supernatural one; the boundary between them is seamless. I’m also particularly interested in eyewitness stories: the spirituality of the storytellers and their genuine belief in all the supernatural elements.

Could you tell us more about your visual approach? Having seen The Little Soul, I imagine it might expand upon the unique textures and techniques in that?
Yes, I want to develop the technique I used in my previous short films. In The Little Soul, I worked with more relief form, and now I am back with spatial animation, but still, it is a combination of clay and puppet with oil-painting techniques. Cherub is based on contrasts. It juxtaposes opposites: for example, beauty with ugliness, lightness with anxiety. I want to reflect that also in textures and explore how each material can behave, frame by frame. Dryness and wetness, smoothness and stickiness, tangibility and transience in their extreme forms. Shades of summer, colourful flowers, ribbons, soft feathers and charming light will mix in the film with mud, manure, soured milk, spit, darkness and shadows.

I think that animation, especially spatial stop motion, is one of the best tools for telling stories in the convention of magical realism. You have all of these shapeshifting creatures, wraiths and apparitions. You have different kinds of emotions and types of perceptions. Just imagine how much despair I can show on these faces made of plasticine, when I can make the eyes open wider than a terribly wide-open mouth and drown everything in dense, oily tears.

How long can you see the overall production process for Cherub lasting, and are you planning to work with any new collaborators for it?
The total process from development to delivery is planned to take five years. We intend to invite international collaborators as co-production partners, but also for creative input: the composer, editor, VFX and sound design. Amidst the production, I will be working with my collaborators from Poland, as it is a long and very precise, specific process.

How are you planning to use the €20,000 sum from the Eurimages award?
This is a great form of support at the development stage, for script consultations and script doctoring, as I am now in the process of writing the second draft of the script. It will also be very helpful for supporting the development of the animation technique; we are already planning to create some shots and test new ideas.

What was your experience like in Rotterdam for CineMart? Did you receive any useful feedback or suggestions?
My experience at CineMart was great. It was the first time we had presented Cherub, and it was a pivotal experience for the project. I am so glad about the positive feedback we received; it was not only a great opportunity for exposure, but also contributed significantly to the progress of the development of the film. As a writer-director receiving their first bits of feedback, I learned objectively what the strengths and weaknesses of the project are at this point.

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