Signe Baumane – director


Currently working on: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MARRIAGE

Previous feature length animation –


Viktors Freibergs

The film by director and artist Signe Baumane „Rocks in My Pockets” represents Latvia in competition for American Academy award Oscar Additional information: Signe Baumane‘s blog:

The Latvian Signe Baumane has been mostly living and working in New York since 1995. This city is her place of residence and not a transit point. “When I came here, I was completely convinced that this is my place and I have to be here!” – says Signe. She is also a full-fledged member of the American Motion Picture Academy, the only Latvian director who is its member. In a sense Signe is a true artist, a person who adamantly refuses to go for creative compromises, jobs done only for money or makes commercial nonsense – her signature and the harsh femininity of her films is widely known by the non-commercial world of animation.

Her films often address the theme of female sexuality very courageously, combining both explicit metaphoricity and graphic expressivity and openness. In the reviews of Baumane’s creative work one may come across the designation “expert of erotic animation” although the erotic provocations of her films are characterized by feminist pathos of self-sufficiency, they do not serve as visual pleasure for men’s eyes – which means they have very relative link with eroticism. Baumane embodies the idea of a romanticist ‘author’, she is all in one – director, script-writer, artist whose work bears an explicit signature of her personality. Signe’s roots are to be found in Latvian animation although she has always been strikingly unique and marginal. Striking and marginal is also Signe Baumane’s first animation feature film „Rocks in My Pockets” that has received part of its funding also from Latvia. (The film was made possible with the support of Women Make Movies, New York State Council on the Arts, The Jerome Foundation, National Film Centre of Latvia and 800 Kickstarter backers.)

International premiere of the film took place in Karlovy Vary International Festival where „Rocks in My Pockets” received several awards. It has been rapturously reviewed in press: „Signe Baumane examines her family members’ history with mental illness (as well as her own struggles) with humour, delicacy and eye-catching animation techniques… Her commitment and talent is overwhelming.” Whitney Matheson, USA TODAY

The reviewers give high evaluation both to the complexity of the film’s contents, as well as its unique technology:

„Animated in a striking combination of real paper-mache sets and props and hand-drawn 2D figures, the film explores with wit, surreal invention and insight something left far too often undiscussed.” Boyd van Hoeij, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

Signe Baumane‘s film has been also listed among those twenty animation films that can compete for the Oscar award in the animation film category, it is also the Oscar entry from Latvia.

Despite the rigid story line Signe Baumane’s full-length animation film „Rocks in my Pockets” cannot be strait-jacketed into one single genre or reduced to a single message, which is doubtlessly one of its advantages for those spectators who are ready to create their own version of the film as they watch it, and yet its narrative has at least two somewhat similar purposes. Firstly, it positions itself as a fictionalized version about Signe’s own life (we can choose to take it for granted or see it as a tempting version) and her struggle with madness, which in the film’s context is to be perceived as an antonym to the mundane, impassive and boring normality of the material existence which can only be explained by her fictional self looking back into her family history where facts and fiction are elegantly intertwined. Secondly, it is a story of individual’s life that is transformed, mutilated or wiped out by history, by its twists and turns; regimes that come and go all have a common purpose of manipulating with an individual, and the only escape from losing one’s mind in the avalanche of changing powers seemingly is death – in other words suicide. Yet the film is by no means another grim tale about meaninglessness of attempts to survive and emptiness of existence but a tale about creativity that is sometimes like a disease which has been quite a while ago pointed out also by George Orwell, it is torture and torment, but also the only way to infuse daily life with a purpose of survival. Creating one’s own fictional self is a venturous and at the same time a healthy and courageous exercise.

The opening sequence or, to be more precise, a prologue to the film shows the main character, supposedly Signe Baumane herself, pushing uphill a huge stone, and it clearly evokes reference to Sisyphus myth: the story of one’s life can never be finished, the depth of despair and passion are unfathomable, the process of creation is agony.

The quasi-autobiographical angle of the film is underlined by Signe Baumane’s own voice that tells the story, the voice that is intensively ironic, avoiding clichés of vocal expression and underscoring the deep-seated absurdity of every dramatic act (including self-annihilation) her characters attempt to perform. The episode with her grandmother Anna standing amidst a forest in a shallow river apparently in an attempted suicide act is a clear reference to an actual event – in 1941 Virginia Woolf, being unable to bear any longer the onslaught of madness, put stones (some sources say a big stone) in her pocket and stepped into the river Ouse and drowned herself to be found only a couple of weeks later. Thus the image of the stone or rocks from the very beginning of the film turns into a metaphor; it becomes almost the central image of Signe Baumane’s film. It might sound like a cliché, but they say that before the very moment of death the entire life fast-backwards in one’s mind as brief flashbacks although this might be another myth since the actual moment of death is something no one could possible relate, yet the film becomes a series of memories (or flashbacks) of the life of the main character’s family members (mainly women) whose struggle to “have options” in their lives in the past apparently accounts for the main character’s unwillingness to live in captivity and boredom of daily routine.

The opening scene with grandmother Anna in the shallow waters is re-played at the end of the film transforming both the significance of the initial sequence and the implied meaning of rocks into something of their own opposites and the spectator must re-interpret the film from a scratch, its initial version rolls down the slope of the hill like Sisyphus’ stone, everything begins again.

The image of rocks becomes sustained throughout the film and its manifestations are not only visual but also verbal: the wife of Indulis, Anna’s one time flame, is said to be as solid as a rock, and when he is almost swallowed up in a bog, she is the one who pulls him out unlike rocks in the pocket that signify death: the verbal image and the visual scene collide, are played out against each other to create a surreal undertone in which is one of the characteristic elements of the film’s style marked by sometimes deliberately crudely drawn images and slightly washed-out colour patterns that tend to be dominated by dark tonalities.

The allusion to Virginia Woolf is one of comparatively numerous intertextual references that facilitate reading of the film in a broader context without limiting its story by representation of the life of the main character and the seminal turning points and events in history of Latvia (which are depicted in the film with factual precision). In a fleeting moment the spectators can see Rodin’s „Thinker” placed on a water-closet, the very name suggests its significance. In another episode during World War II when Latvia is under German occupation Anna and Indulis are blackmailed by soviet partisans who force the couple to supply them with food or else they would kill her; to survive she procures some rabbits to get hold of food for her blackmailers. When Anna discovers that one of the rabbits has devoured its little ones, and feeling trapped in Indulis’ jealousy, out of complete despair she thinks to herself: “You can get free if you let your children die” – that evokes reminiscences to Medea. At this point Anna turns into a metaphorical wolf, ready to devour the rabbits alias her kids, the pun with Virginia Woolf becomes apparent. Spotting of references to other texts in „Rocks in My Pockets” becomes like a game even if these allusions might be only generated in our perception and not built into the narrative of the film intentionally: that signifies the beauty and mystery of creation.

The borderline between the “actual” reality of the animated film – although strictly speaking nothing is real in it because in animated film everything is created, made up by the author’s imagination, in a way it is the purest kind of cinema that constructs its own reality and never attempts to replicate it – and the imaginary, sometimes hallucinatory inner world of characters becomes fuzzy. For the simplicity’s sake we can describe it as creation of a series of metaphors (although metaphor and symbol are fairly ambiguous terms that are much harder to be defined than it appears at the first glance). When the voice-over of the narrator mentions that Indulis perceives his job like a jail (insoluble dilemma between passion and duty) we see him instantly locked in a cage. And his phrase that he wants more children is illustrated by a stork standing next to him but in Baumane’s film the cliché does not destroy originality of the visual narrative because of the ironic undertone resonating in the voice telling the story. When Anna’s love for Indulis fades away and she loses physical pleasure in his embrace, Anna turns in his arms into huge fish, cold and slippery, detached and cold for Indulis. When Anna is characterized as the brightest student – her head is suddenly blown out of proportion and then it turns into a big bulb – immaterial quality becomes visualized – brightness of mind is transformed into the brightness of the bulb. When cancer is mentioned the sudden appearance of huge crayfish is less expressive for a non-Latvian speaker because cancer and crayfish in Latvian are spelt identically.

An essential image that is persistently present and practically keeps silent throughout the film is the demon: amorphous, pale and outlandish shape that signifies temptation, madness, one’s dark hidden self – these can be only a few of the interpretations of the horrifying and at the same time hilarious character that appears to be the great manipulator, bearing analogy to Descartes’ malin genie who keeps putting stones in our pockets.