Editors Note: “Price is Right” is a running column from local film enthusiast Mr. Price. He reviews selected Strasburg Film Festival films. If he posts a negative review, then the Shenandoah Film Collaborative will respond within his reviews as to why we selected the certain film. By going about it this way, we can help ensure the reader that these are honest film reviews.
“This Magnificent Cake” is a series of loosely-interwoven vignettes, set in the 1850s and centering around a newly established African colony. In a direct counterpoint to its charming cloth stop-motion animation style, the film is rife with grim melancholy. The contrast between the soft visuals and dark themes gives “This Magnificent Cake” a profound beauty only possible thanks to its mastery of the balance.
The opening vignette sets up the setting of the majority of the film, by introducing us to the aging king who wishes to establish a new African colony. In these first scenes, the film establishes its dark tone by showcasing the failing mind and body of the old king. Immediately afterwards “This Magnificent Cake” explores the grim reality of the colony set up as an attempt by the king to create a legacy. The brutality of colonialism is a pervasive theme of the film, and one which is explored in the majority of the remaining vignettes. Interspersed among these heartbreaking moments are elements of the surreal, times when both the characters and audience are left wondering at the nature of the reality presented by the film.
Though the film does not shy away from darkness, it avoids falling into dreariness by including moments of simple but profound beauty, such as the fast friendship built by two men on the boat headed towards the colony. It is these charming moments, reinforced by the film’s warm visual style, that simultaneously enhance its dark moments and keep them from overwhelming the experience of watching “This Magnificent Cake”. The end result of which is a beautifully made, achingly profound, and delightfully unique experience.