Meet Sonja. There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but for her, there’s only one rainbow trout. Loneliness and isolation are cleverly diluted with love and hope in BAFTA winner Sleeping With The Fishes by Yousif Al-Khalifa. With an emotionally resonant core, the dialogue-free animation is a thoroughly delightful, if somewhat disturbing watch, which will leave you with a big grin and a full heart.
Sonja is a lonely fishmonger, whose fear of human interaction has left her living in isolation with fish being her only companions. Her world is thrown upside down when a beautiful man enters her shop and changes her life. Sleeping With The Fishes is a classical hand-drawn animation, whose serious themes are thickly coated with sweetness and decorated with scrumptious dark humour. The result is simultaneously shocking and moving.
“It was a breath of fresh air reading something so playful and full of colour”
The idea for Sleeping With The Fishes came after Al-Khalia and writer Sarah Woolner spent months trying to find the ‘perfect’ story. “I thought it best to let Sarah write something on her own with ‘loneliness’ being the only brief” the director explains. The treatment for the animation was then written overnight, and Al-Khalia couldn’t have been happier with the result.
“After I put too much pressure on us, and especially on Sarah, to create something deep and philosophical, it was a breath of fresh air reading something so playful and full of colour”, Al-Khalia explains. “She had also taken the the theme of loneliness and moved it towards being more about isolation, which might be a subtle difference but it made Sonja, our lead character, seem much stronger for it” – he recalls.
There is a solid structure in Sleeping With The Fishes, one which is enormously rewarding, as it touches on an array of issues and emotions, bound to appeal to its audience. The underlying themes of solitude and fear are poignant and relevant to modern day life, whereas the dark, and wonderfully weird comedy brings the story to life.
But it’s the romantic element that is really the icing on the cake. I mean, who doesn’t like a good love story? Even if it is a little bit fishy. My heart melted during a scene involving couples of various aquatic species making out on ice!
Without a voice over, the sound plays as big a role in telling a story as the visuals do, and in Sleeping With The Fishes, it is a real stroke of genius. The dark, frightening reality for Sonja is reflected in the grotesque sounds of her everyday life – flesh being chopped up, fish being gutted, their innards splattering.
When she is calm and content at home, surrounded by water and her fish, however, we have a beautiful, serene score. The distinction between her two worlds is made all the stronger thanks to these auditory cues and the result, whilst so subtle it can easily be missed, is simply magnificent.
Yousif Al-Khalifa is currently making short stings for TV, but in his spare time he’s frantically sketching and looking for his next idea. He’s also interested in creating an animated mini-series and developing a game with a strong narrative. Whatever he chooses to do, we’ll keep an eye out, because we know it’ll be worth the wait!