The first time I saw Reed Birney in a film I became an instant fan as his performance in Sam Raimi’s enormously underrated Crimewave is full of energy and charm, where he tries to find his dream girl as two rather insane exterminators are doing their very best to kill him. It’s a movie which is filled with sublime slapstick and hilarious idiocy, and because of all of the talent involved both behind and in front of the camera it’s an eighties film which still stands up in this day and age.
So when I learnt that Birney had a role in this year’s fantasy film Strawberry Mansion I sought it out, fell in love with it, and only then discovered that it was co-written and co-directed by Birney’s son Albert, along with Kentucker Audley. That led to my tracking down the younger Birney’s other work and watching the all kinds of adorable Sylvio, the Gilliam-esque but so much more than that The Beast Pageant, and the animated oddity Tux and Fanny, and based on these four films Birney is now very highly placed on the list of directors I love an awful lot.
Having made a career of making films that are quirky at the very least Tux and Fanny is perhaps the craziest of the lot, and though all of his other films will at one point get a very positive write up on the site, so far this is my favourite work of his. It’s also a film which is undoubtedly not for everyone and visually it may not appeal to all as the majority of the film has the look of an 8-bit Commodore 64 game, while the dialogue is in Russian with English subtitles to explain what’s being said.
For a large section of the film there isn’t a particularly strong narrative but unusually that’s in no way to its detriment as we follow the antics of the pink and purple vaguely humanoid Tux and Fanny as they go about their day playing football, befriending a local cat, attempting to watch tv, playing on their computer and exploring the forest. All of which might not sound exciting but it has such a strange but very funny sense of humour, and the friendship between these two individuals is so adorable, that’s it’s impossible not to find the whole thing beguiling.
It becomes increasingly surreal as it goes on, with Tux at one point having all of his skin eaten by ants and wandering around in skeleton form, at least until Fanny knits him a new skin suit, while Fanny is absorbed by their computer and the after effects are rather bizarre, and their eating mushrooms also leads to some exquisitely odd moments. A trip to the forest to try and find their lost cat Sasha sees the film take on a new look which is enchanting and then some, and this third act has a storyline which kept me grinning right to the very end.
As well as a visual aesthetic which is fairly unique the sound design is quite special too, with the soundtrack occasionally sounding slightly damaged but perfectly fitting this offbeat yet lovely world. Despite the deliberately simplistic look it’s often a strangely beautiful film, and it’s one which is laugh out loud funny throughout as Tux and Fanny wonder about their lives in a largely carefree manner. Birney has also created a video game based on the characters and a sequel is in the works, and with both I really can’t wait to see what crazy and unusual delights he offers up next.