In the cinema: the animated film “Odyssey”: The Diary of a Displaced Culture

Childhood, then in the countryside, is a drawing in a sketchbook. Tree, parents, brother, transition lines, contours. It used to be forgotten, it used to be dead, they used to say. In addition to memory. Deleting what was was one of the basic flying and expulsion experiences.

In the footage of this film, the childhood of the girl Kyona is swallowed, painted from all experiences while escaping with her little brother Adriel after the militia burned the village. Kyona records the events in her notebook, her most valuable asset: chaos at the train station, life with street children, selling to the rich, time with old Baba Yaga in the winter forest, and then in the traveling circus , hell in the camp and finally the border crossing.

“Odyssey” is a cinematic tale full of cruelty, but also full of magic, eternal and very current in function of the Ukrainian war refugees, according to the UNHCR already more than five million people. There are also 7.7 million internally displaced persons.

French director Florence Miailhe created her own animated film over the years with three teams of artists in Toulouse, Leipzig and Prague. Sometimes they needed an entire day for a single second of film. In this way 120,000 individual images were created, hand-painted in oil on glass tiles.

Expressive landscapes, explosive colors, shapes and forms that are constantly changing – flight and transit pass together in a surprising way. Miailhe puts her transformative abilities at the service of the universal nightmare of escape and expulsion.

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Kyona, now an elderly woman, remembers from the beginning – in the German version, Hanna Schygulla gives her voice to the narrator. The escape is described in the comeback and 13-year-old Kyona’s sketchbook is gradually filled.

A station drama that probably many refugees experience: siblings lose their parents in front of overcrowded trains, Adriel becomes a random thief, they search for something useful in the garbage dump, while falling victim to smugglers and human traffickers.

The film is dedicated to Miailhe’s great-grandmother, who left Odessa in 1905 with ten children.

New friendships and comfort communities develop, who can you trust? The two exchange, run away, even lose each other, until they find themselves in the circus with acrobats, all refugees. Some of their friends do not survive. “My heart was sifted,” says Kyona. “I lost more and more people along the way.”


Miailhe, born in 1956, co-wrote the screenplay with children’s writer and author Marie Desplechin, based on her family’s escape experiences. The film is dedicated to all those who leave their homes and hope for a better future elsewhere; also Miailhe’s great-grandmother, who had to flee Odessa pogroms in 1905 with ten children.

The film does not mention specific places, locations, wars or authors. But the director used archival photographs, for example from the Magnum agency, and her mother’s sketches from World War II as a basis. The third dedication of the film is dedicated to the mother, the artist herself.

The motifs of the tales fit surprisingly well into today’s refugee narrative

In this way, the series of picture books of “Odyssey” in bright colors always remains true to reality. And despite the rich soundtrack recorded by the Babelsberg Film Orchestra, the story does not turn into melodramatic. Motifs from fairy tales, for example from “Little Tom Thumb” or “Hansel and Gretel” fit alarmingly into today’s refugee narrative. The film, as cruel and magical as fairy tales can be, is suitable for children as well. Because it opens up a fantastic world in which the suffering, fear and abandonment of refugees is surrounded by beauty and wonder, a beauty that never lasts.

Magpi becomes an accomplice of Kyon and as a last resort holds the carnation with the killer sting in the beak. The lion’s head on the door handle can whistle conspiratorially, the birches have eyes and the rope climbs into the air, turning into a bird.

[“Die Odyssee” startet am Donnerstag in 9 Berliner Kinos: Acud, Kant Kino, Sputnik, Wolf. OmU: Acud, Brotfabrik, IL Kino, Klick, Sputnik, Hackesche Höfe, Tilsiter Lichtspiele. OV: Sputnik]

In addition to the incessant metamorphoses, the materiality of the images is fascinating. The thick stroke of the brush makes the swelling visible during the dangerous crossing of the river, the man is afraid of drowning in the blue. The blackness of being trapped in the mine, the icy world of the winter forest, the smoke of Baba Yaga’s pipe, in which memories of carefree village life appear like chimeras, the shredded paper snow that bury all life under absence of its weight – every episode in this street movie of a completely different kind takes on its own color, develops its intensity and style.

Migration means being at mercy. Nothing is safe, everything is temporary and unsafe. All the more precious is the memory that appears in Kyona’s sketchbook. The Odyssey is also a homage to the immense, identity-forming power of memories and their existential necessity.

It is true, sometimes only magic tricks can help against the horror of reality. Things can not go right when the world finally shines in the meadow green and sunny yellow. Arriving after the escape, finding something like peace, for most immigrants remains a big and vain dream.

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