Emma de Swaef And Marc James Roels’s This Magnificent Cake! (Ce magnifique Gâteau!) is a hard film to pin down, starting with its length. At 44 minutes, is it a feature or a short? Over the past year, the film has been programmed as both, depending on opinions of festival programmers and awards organizers.
The film is currently nominated for an Annie Award in the category of Best Independent Animated Feature, alongside MFKZ, Mirai, Tito and the Birds, and Ruben Brandt, Collector.
This Magnificent Cake! is the first film by the Belgians De Swaef and Roels since their breakout 2012 effort Oh Willy…, a festival favorite that notched over 80 international awards and popularized a trend for stop-motion films made with wool and felt materials.
While their new film share similarities in technique with that earlier work, This Magnificent Cake! goes in a much darker direction, highlighting the horrors of Europe’s colonial past. Set in Africa in the late 19th century, it tells the intertwined stories of five different characters: a troubled king; a middle-aged pygmy working in a luxury hotel; a failed businessman on an expedition; a lost porter; and a young army deserter.
“We thought this was a tense and ambiguous subject that would be interesting to talk about in a very interesting setting. When people go to these colonies, who is it that goes there? What are their intentions? And how do they behave once they get there?” said De Swaef.
“We’re surrounded by all this wealth, especially in Belgium. A lot of the train stations, just about any beautiful building you see in Belgium, has been financed more or less directly by the rubber trade in the Congo at the time,” adds Roels. “That doesn’t take long to make a couple more steps, like, okay, the fact that our clothes are so cheap, that our technology is so cheap, someone’s making this and someone’s being exploited. There is a ripple effect that you can feel coming from these colonial systems that were in place.”
With their use of absurdist humor and accessible visual style, De Swaef and Roels hope that they can encourage new dialogues about this challenging and mostly undiscussed subject matter. “The audience laughs and then they kind of feel uncomfortable about laughing,” says Roels. “It’s an interesting tension to create in the spectator.”
This Magnificent Cake! was produced by Beast Animation (Belgium) in co-production with Vivement Lundi (France) and Pedri Animation (The Netherlands).
De Swaef and Roels spoke with Cartoon Brew last June at the Annecy animation festival in France about how they researched, developed, and produced their film.