Melbourne International Film Festival: Ernie Biscuit (Australia, 2015)

From the maker of Oscar Winning Harvie Krumpet (2003) and Mary and Max (2009), claymation pioneer Adam Elliot brings to screen his next installation of the little blobs of clay which he has so strongly attached himself and his career to. Running for 21mins Ernie Biscuit tells the tale of a how deaf Parisian Taxidermist, Ernée Bisquet finds love in the most unlikely of places.

For audiences familiar with Elliot’s work, Ernie Biscuit feels like the return of an old friend or like the nostalgic taste of a Caramello Koala. Perhaps taking inspiration from Patrick Süskind’s “The Pigeon” or perhaps just taking inspiration from the mundane as Elliot tends to do, Ernée Bisquet’s life is uprooted when he finds a dead pigeon on his doorstep. The dead pigeon is a catalyst and reminds Ernée of his only friend of which his only existing memory of her is an old drawing of them gliding through the canals of Venice. Seizing the day (and his delightful duck companion) Ernée sets off to pay justice to his childhood memory by booking a one way ticket to Venice. Unfortunately he accidently boards the wrong plane and instead is flown to the “land of milk, honey and beer”, to the land of opportunity, to Australia. It is here that he is given the Australianised name “Ernie Biscuit” and bumbles his way to love.   

Drawn to stories of migration and assimilation Elliot again explores the plight of an outsider and their struggle to belong. However as an Australian watching this film there is also a welcoming nostalgia for the short. Ernie is introduced to Australian cuisine which consists of dim sims and chiko rolls (his pet duck takes a fancy to Vegemite), and the familiar warble of magpies and laugh of kookaburras are heard in the background. This tongue in cheek prod at Australian stereotypes is distinctively self depreciating and uniquely Aussie. As well as this the short is narrated by 81 year old John Flaus who’s rich deep voice shines like the Australian sun injecting warmth to this black and white tale.

After his feature length stop motion animation Mary and Max, Elliot decided to get back to basics with Ernie Biscuit. Elliot produced, directed, constructed and animated this short all on his own as he felt disillusioned with directing from the side lines and was ready to get back amongst the tactile nature of claymation. In addition to this, the film is impressively only made with a few different materials and surprisingly, is a self funded project. In this way the production process is very similar to the Oscar winning Harvey Krumpet with Elliot revealing that Ernie Biscuit is indeed the “sequel” to Harvey Krumpet. Intrigued with the idea of a trilogy of trilogies it is Elliot’s ambition to partner his Film School trilogy Uncle, Cousin, Brother with an additional trilogy of features and short films, of which Ernie Biscuit is part of.

Even though the Ernie Biscuit exists within the world of black humour and self deprecating quips, the film is poignantly dedicated to Elliot’s father Noel who passed away while Ernie Biscuit was still in production. In previous interviews Elliot is said to have based his characters on friends and family, with his father’s career as an actor an entertainer influencing his career. Elliot’s passion for his art is unquestionable and you can see his love and high regard for his characters in every fingerprint that has been put into the clay. It can be said that a lot of Elliot’s films are also self reflexive and are revealing glimpses into how Elliot also views the world. Ernie Biscuit is a lonely taxidermist and Elliot an isolated animator who also shares an interest in taxidermy; Elliot also has an Aspergers penpal in New York which is in common with Mary from Mary and Max. All of Elliot’s stories are in this way character driven and hit close to home. The characters do not exist so much within narrative or society but rather are self assured and exist solidly within both themselves and Elliot.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Ernie Biscuit screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.