El Empleo

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A man goes to work. That is the whole plot of El Empleo, a gorgeous award-winning animated short directed by Santiago Grasso. A man awakes and turns off his alarm clock. He heads to the lamp and switches it on. What is curious here is that the lamp is another man who stands, legs together, with a lampshade over his head. In the bathroom our leading man shaves in front of a mirror being held up by someone else. He sits down to eat breakfast and his chair and table is made up of three other people.

We can consider for a moment that this is a selfish man, perhaps a tyrant with a gigantic ego employing people to be his furniture, but he looks plain and his surroundings are drab. When he steps outside it is clear the whole world is functioning this way; people serving others to make lives easier. When waiting at the taxi rank, for example, instead of getting into a vehicle you simply climb atop a human being and get piggy backed to your destination. The traffic lights controlling the early morning rush hour consist of two people suspended in the air. One opens his mac to reveal a red jumper and the traffic stops. He closes his mac and the next gentleman opens his to reveal a green jumper and the traffic moves on. We recognise this as logic. Director Grasso holds the mirror up for us.

El Empleo is a commentary on the workforce and how we cope, but here the eyes of all the characters are the same; sad and dark, suggesting a universal acceptance of the humdrum. Successful animation studios like Pixar are able to make you believe in the worlds they build, in places like Monstropolis, largely due to their attention to detail. Similarly, El Empleo is very easy to invest in, because everything in it is fully realised. There is authenticity and there are coherent rules: a man has to turn off his own morning alarm but he cannot hold a mirror whilst shaving, humans cannot become an elevator but in order to travel in one an over weight person can become the ballast enabling the elevator to function.

The animation employs sounds of the everyday, a clock ticking, pronounced footsteps, but is also dialogue free and very gentle. Director Santiago Grasso, judging by the IMDb, has done nothing since 2008 when this animation was released. I hope the slow, tedious process of animation has kept him from presenting his next work rather than disillusionment, because he has a creative eye and is a tender, visual storyteller.

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