Lost FilmsShorts

LOST FILMS: “Calaveras” by Jacques Colombat

What constitutes a “lost” film? The traditional definition is a film whose existence is confirmed but of which no prints can be found. But in this day and age of infinite abundance on the Internet, there is also another type of lost film. This is the film of which prints readily exist, but the film is rarely screened publicly, unavailable online, and is not part of the general animation community’s discussion.

An even more personal definition of a “lost” film is simply a film that I wish to see and am unable to find. I plan to regularly highlight these films in this new feature called “Lost Films.” It represents a desire to draw attention to the rich history of animated filmmaking and the various ways that artists have explored the medium throughout the years.

The first “lost film” is Calaveras (Skulls, 1969), a French short directed by Jacques Colombat (b. 1940) and produced by Les films Armorial. Colombat, who was a protégé of the important French animation director Paul Grimault, was inspired by the artwork of Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada to create his Day of the Dead-themed short. Using a combination of cel animation and cut-out, Colombat animated the film with Jean Vimenet and Jean-François Laguionie, the latter of whom recently released the feature Le Tableau.

Colombat appears to still be alive and well. In fact, a photo of him riding a bicycle around Paris randomly ended up on the Associated Press last October.

The film’s running times that I’ve seen vary between 11 and 15 minutes. Here is the most complete synopsis of Calaveras that can be found online:

An unusual and aesthetically interesting cartoon, set in Mexico at the time of the defeat of Maximilian I by the Republican forces under Juárez. It tells the story of an imprisoned Algerian soldier who, having been left behind when Maximilian’s French troops were forced to withdraw, faces a firing squad. While he is in jail he dreams of life outside, but eventually his time comes. According to popular Mexican belief however, men continue their previous lives in the state of skeletons and there is every indication that the soldier will soon find his place in this new world.

The adventurous design and color of Calaveras excites the senses. I can’t imagine how these drawings are animated as cut-outs—or if they’re even animated—but I’d love to find out.