Review: Angry and ambitious, 'The Tower’ lacks the artistry to tell its emotional story

November 8, 2019 0 By JohnValbyNation

“The Tower,” an animated feature by Norwegian writer-director Mats Grorud, is both a political protest and a lament for a lost way of life, reminiscent of “Barefoot Gen,” Keiji Nakazawa’s first-person account of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Wardi, a bright 11-year-old Palestinian girl, lives with her extended family in a refugee camp in Lebanon. She adores her great-grandfather Sidi, who was one of the first settlers there after he lost his home in Galilee when Israel was founded in 1948. Four generations of the family long to return to that home and the prospects of a better life, their hope symbolized by the house key Sidi passes on to Wardi.

Grorud uses stop-motion animation for Wardi’s daily life and 2-D animation for the prolonged flashbacks of her relatives’ struggles against Israeli forces. Although he presents his story passionately, the narrative is undercut by the limits of the animation. Neither the stop-motion puppets nor the 2-D figures express the deeply felt emotions the artist tries to convey. “The Tower” demands nuanced acting comparable to the stop motion in “Kubo and the Two Strings” or the drawn animation in Isao Takahata’s “The Grave of the Fireflies.” Grorud and his artists haven’t reached that level of polish.

“The Tower” is an angry, ambitious and often moving film from an underrepresented group, but its story might have been told more effectively in live action.

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