I usually don't do reviews of short films, but once in a while, a project comes along that deserves to be talked about. Alberto Mielgo's Jibaro is such a film. Not that it caught me completely off guard. I had already registered his name when he directed The Witness for the first Love, Death + Robots anthology. Jibaro is next level though. It's not a film that will do well with everyone, but it is so unique and out there that it completely floored me, and made me wish it was at least twice as long. Now that's a feat very few films manage to accomplish.
Jibaro is part of Love, Death + Robots 3. Netflix treats these new releases as seasons, but they're really just classic (animated) film anthologies clocking in around the 2-hour mark. While the full anthologies are pretty interesting in their own right, they often lack directors who use the freedom that comes with these types of projects. Mielgo is a notable exception, not content to simply make a short film and push one aspect of the medium, but aiming to create something that challenges the medium while showcasing a different way to do cinema altogether. Not that I expect many films to flow in Jibaro's footsteps, but at least the template is there now.
Jibaro is the kind of "show, don't tell" spectacle that I love. It's a film that throws you in the middle of a conflict, and reveals its lore by giving you glimpses of what is important, but explains very little and offers virtually no direct exposition. The allegory isn't very hard to decipher and the meaning should be clear enough once the short has finished, but the world-building and lore are so hazy that they leave behind a web of intriguing gaps, giving me plenty of reasons to revisit the film. Obviously, if you prefer to see everything neatly explained, this might be a bit of a turn-off.
The plot is basic, but Mielgo manages to cram in quite a bit in the film's short runtime. A group of warriors is traveling through the forest when they happen upon a lake where a mysterious siren resides. She lures everyone into her trap, the only one to survive is a deaf soldier who isn't affected by her voice. He tries to flee back into the forest, but the siren is intrigued by the soldier's immunity. She tracks him down and tries to make contact with him. He plays along, but he only wants the siren for her body which is covered in gold and other riches. When she least expects it, he makes his move.
A lot of the more serious US CG these days is transfixed by photorealism, something that is very obvious when watching the Love, Death + Robots anthologies. Jibaro goes a similar route, to the point where it felt like at least some live-action shots were mixed into the film. What is a goal for most directors, is merely the starting point for Mielgo. Not only does he dress up the settings and characters to make them slightly more surreal, but he also treats the technical quality of the visuals as a mere cogwheel within a much broader whole. The camera work for example feels way more dynamic and thought out compared to similar films. The editing is much sharper and plays explicitly with rhythm and pacing, even within single scenes, and the fantastical designs are truly inspired and detailed, not merely afterthoughts. To see all of this executed at the highest technical level is pretty unique, and it perfectly illustrates what a director who understands the strengths of an anthology project can accomplish.
To make things even better, Mielgo treated the sound design and the score with the same respect and attention to detail as the animation and cinematography. The combination of a siren and mute character is decidedly inviting for auditory playfulness, even so, the way the sound editing works with and against the visual editing is at times utterly mind-blowing. I'm a strong advocate of using music and sound design to enhance the atmosphere and I've seen few films do a better job than Jibaro. The screams of the siren are terrifying, but the way they are sometimes muted and mixed with silence was nothing less than harrowing, nailing me to my seat. Mielgo deserves even bigger praise for this than for the visual accomplishments in my opinion.
Even though the film is only fifteen minutes long and Mielgo keeps the intensity high at all times, he still plays around with the pacing and builds up a proper narrative with some highs and lows. What stands out are individual moments and scenes though. The dance of the siren is majestic, the slaughter of the soldiers is impressive and gruesome, and the showdown between the siren and the mute is extremely intense. And all this is delivered with an unrelenting love for maximalism, even during the film's quieter sequences. The moment the end credits started rolling, I felt like I immediately needed to experience it again, and that's a feeling I don't experience that often.
No doubt Mielgo's work is going to be a little too intense, abstract, or overall maximalist for some. The nice thing is that the film is only 15 minutes long and can be watched separately from the other anthology shorts, so nobody risks losing a lot of valuable time on something they end up disliking. Those who do love a bit of cutting edge, adventurous, and moody filmmaking should seek Jibaro out as quickly as possible though. The quality of the animation is insane, the sound design is best in class, Mielgo's direction elevates every bit of footage he touches and even though the film is short, much of it lingers. Here's to hoping Mielgo can channel all this beauty into a feature film project next.