You will not be able to shake Bestia. I haven’t. I stupidly watched the film at one in the morning not aware of the film’s imagery or its violence. Hugo Covarrubias’ film is like he took the most polished dollhouse, held it above his head, and smashed it on the ground. It’s a wake up call to his own country’s history, and it’s one of the most startling films to be nominated in any category at this year’s Oscars.
Bestia was inspired by the true story of Íngrid Olderöck, a member of a secret Chilean force in the ’70s and ’80s who was tasked with torturing individuals with the help of her faithful dog. The silence of Bestia is shocking, but Covarrubias wanted to use his background in stop-motion animation to detail the unraveling of Olderöck’s psyche.
“I’ve worked in animation since 2005, and I’ve done theater plays that mix in stop-motion animation,” Covarrubias said. “Stop-motion is how I know how to tell stories, but when we developed the script, we realized that this history contains so many different rhythms. We thought that stop-motion animation could do incredible things to tell to the material. That’s the main reason why we continued with stop-motion. It all came from making a series about well-known individuals in Chile’s political history. Doing the research, the figure of Íngrid Olderöck, the woman who inspires the story, is the real history of a woman who belongs to all of us. In one of the books, we realized that this woman was left with a mental in balance from the people she was involved with. Some officials would make people feel like they were only a small piece in a larger piece of machinery.”
Stop-motion animation is my favorite form of animation, but Covarrubias’ inclusion of glossy, familiar figurines makes the visuals more unsettling. It’s not figures in a dollhouse, however. They exist on wide, cerebral planes, and I couldn’t help but wonder how difficult capturing the images had been.
“There are two that were hard to make,” Covarrubias revealed. “The first one is the traveling that starts in the kitchen and goes through the door of the house. We are walking across the dining room. There were only two animators on Bestia. One was me, and the other was Matías Delgado. He animated, principally, the dog. For him, it was very hard to animate and to feel the sensation of movements. We observed some sequences of dogs walking to get the motion correctly. Another sequence was the house is broken and the main character hits the table. Because I had to be in the studio with out art director, Constanza Wette. We both were alone in this big, old, former train station. There were legends or ghosts as our companions while we made this movie.”
Since we aren’t used to seeing animated films utilize violence like Bestia does, I was curious what Covarrubias and his Díaz, his producer, spoke to in pushing the envelope for the sake of storytelling. Bestia isn’t violent just to shock. It’s anchored in Chile’s history.
“Hugo wrote this script, and I think approached this story in a very elegant and intelligent way,” Díaz said. “That is very important because right now in Chile, a lot of people are in that world. A lot of people have family who have disappeared from the ’70s and they have never found them. I think the movie preserves that spirit. It is delicate to show enough to understand the situations but not push a finger into a wound. This content could be universal. Human rights need to be on the table–it is too important.”
“Another way I think we have to go beyond the boundaries of animation. Animation can’t only show good things. We have to visit the darkest places to continue advancing out understanding this world in a different ways,” Covarrubias added.
One of the shots that stuck with me the most was the final image of the film. Olderöck is sitting on an airplane, and she sees ghostly figures in the clouds. They stare at her, and she stares right back. Then she lights a cigarette and we realize–probably most shocking of all–that she is now so desensitized to the violence that she has committed that she is a broken person.
“They represent people who disappear or who were tortured,” Covarrubias revealed. “At the same time, they represent the internal monsters who are hunting her. They are not for us–they are for her. She is unconscious of the difference of the disappeared people and her internal ghosts. We never know that. I know. Those who watch the movie know those people represent disappeared detainees. That evilness will always exist and out into the future.”
“At the end, she saw all the people on the clouds, and then nothing happens,” Díaz said. “She doesn’t care. It’s almost not important enough for her. It is the face of the injustice and it is the face of people being treated as objects. It’s happening today all over the world.”