The Periwig-Maker (1999) Poster

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Wonderfully inspired animation
Kylie628 January 2005
I've watched this short several times and it always leaves me in awe. Steffen Schaffler (director) and his sister Annette (writer) have created a fantastic addition to the cannon of stop-motion films. And it has all the awards to prove it.

"The Periwig-Maker" briefly adapts Daniel Defoe's book "A Journal of the Plague Year" into the running inner monologue (perfectly voiced by Kenneth Branagh) of a shut-in wig designer in London during the plague epidemic.

The story quietly examines, through his unwitting involvement with a courageous little girl, the withdrawn shopkeeper's dilemma of self-preservation versus self-sacrifice. When faced with the threat of our own death, how compassionate are we?

The created "set" of this piece is flawless and the attention to detail is remarkable. Above all else, though, the most hypnotic element is Chris Heyne's dark and heartrending score.

From the first sweeping shot, "The Periwig-Maker" establishes its tone and pulls us into the poignant world of a man who has much to learn about empathy and what makes life worth living.

A dark yet beautiful film.
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A thoughtful rendering of a classic Daniel Defoe novel.
libertyvalance26 March 2001
Siblings Anette (producer)and Steffen (director) Schaffler have created a mesmerizing version of Daniel Defoe's take on the great plague of 1664 in London. Its macabre yet romantic story lends itself perfectly to the extraordinary visuals which wouldn't be out of place in a Tim Burton film. Given that it took the Schafflers 5 years to make their 15 minute animated short (of which 2,5 pre-production) one can imagine how much trouble they took to create their quite astonishing sets. They even went so far as to actually build sets with miniature bricks! In this age of Computer Generated Images it is satisfying to see what effect sheer manual craftsmanship can have on the look of a film. For a great part the sets are responsible for the authenticity of the production. The story handling is sober and the drama never heavy handed. Its rather thoughtful handling of the material might be an obstacle for some of the younger persons in the audience, but I for one enjoyed it very much. I hope Anette and Steffen come up with something new in the near future and hope they take their time producing it!
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This Isn't Wallace and Gromit
jcduffy26 October 2001
Not being a schooled film critic, I'm not entirely certain what to call this kind of animation; but I think of it as a sort of "claymation," and I associate it with the Wallace and Gromit films or, more recently, "Chicken Run." These are, of course, highly entertaining films and technically very impressive. But they're not films one takes as seriously as, say, "The Seventh Seal."

"The Periwig-Maker" shows that this kind of animation can be used for much more serious purposes. The film threw me. I knew from the publicity that it was about the plague; but given the precedent of Wallace and Gromit, I expected a sweet, ultimately upbeat, family-values kind of narrative. Isolated, distrustful man opens his home and his heart to a young girl in need and learns that love triumphs over all obstacles--we've seen this kind of thing before, and that's what I went into this film expecting to see again.

I'm not making any revelations when I say that this movie is DARK. The final voiceover tries to put a positive spin on things by expressing hope for future generations. But still, it's dark. It's heavy. It's about guilt and atonement. It's an art-house film, not "family entertainment." And I'm extremely impressed that the filmmakers managed to accomplish that using this kind of animation. "The Periwig-Maker" is a pioneering film, and I'm eager to see what filmmakers do with this medium in the future.
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A little bit pat and stiff but worth seeing
bob the moo18 January 2006
The plague has hit Europe hard and the death toll rises daily. Locked in his shop to try and evade infection a wigmaker writes in his diary as he watches his city come to a stop. He tries what he can to clean the air in his home but from what he sees there is no spiritual reason for the plague, no punishment from God as some see it but instead a scientific or natural disease that is carried in the air from the skin and from breath. He watches as a young girl across the street starts to fall ill to the plague.

Lacking a firm narrative, this film instead uses the setting of a city affected by the plague to good effect to produce a rather stiff but haunting film. One man sits alone, looking after himself in his home, coldly writing about those outside his walls dying and pontificating on the possible reasons and causes, however he is gradually forced to confront the emotional impact of the deaths as a young girl starts to slip towards certain death. By doing this it shows us the plague but also the humanity of the situation and why we can't just look after number one. It is not totally convincing in how it does this and I didn't totally buy the actions of the man at the end (perhaps he had accepted the inevitable and decided to make it of his own timing) but the point is there.

Branagh is excellent with his voice; his character is such a pale and inexpressive man that it all had to be in the voce and he moves from being cold to understanding very well. The supporting voices are not quite as good but this doesn't matter than much. The animation is impressive with such detail and such good use of the stop-motion technique. Overall an interesting short film. A little bit stiff perhaps but still worth seeing for several reasons.
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Magnificently animated, this film succeeds in creating a stark and disturbing atmosphere suitable to the subject matter
Robert Reynolds4 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This short was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short. There will be spoilers ahead:

In addition to discussing this short, I'd like to make the following observation-animation is not a genre, as mystery, western or science fiction would be, but rather it is a method of making films, a technique, a craft. It's a method for the presentation of a story and can be used to relate a mystery, a western, a science fictional story effectively.

This short serves as an excellent use of animation (specifically stop-motion) to relate an adaptation of Daniel Defoe's "Journal of the Plague Years". It creates the atmosphere of its setting with remarkable economy and effectiveness.

Told by a narrator, voiced by Kenneth Branagh, whose performance is magnificent, the story is told by a series of diary passages written by a periwig-maker who finds himself closeted in his shop during a plague. The narrator speculates on the causes and remedies of the plague as tragedy unfolds around, almost mundanely, on a daily basis. The occasional glimpses of rats scurrying about remind the viewer what the narrator doesn't realize, namely, that the plague is caused by infected fleas borne by the rats.

The narrator gradually becomes aware of a little girl who, of course, becomes ill and subsequently succumbs to the plague. Eventually consumed by a feeling of guilt, the periwig-maker does something startling by way of atonement for his separation from humanity, becomes ill himself and it is clear that he too will die of plague.

This is a bleak and dark work and is expertly crafted. It can be found online and is well worth seeking out. Most highly recommended.
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movieman_kev1 May 2004
The oscar nominated short stop-motion film depicts a wig maker (voice of Kenneth Branagh) in Plague-era Europe. While suitably dark and featuring Kenneth's best acting since at least the late-eighties, still has the air of pomposity that may be off-putting to some. Furthermore I didn't particulerly care for the ending. Still the stop-motion animation is pain-stakingly conceived & the attention to detail is beyond reproach. I can't help but think back to the marionette play that John Cusack put on in the beginning of "Being John Malkovich". Which is a roundabout why to say this is artsy stuff and not for kids.

My Short Grade: B-

Where i saw it: Atom Films
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Sorrowful waters
Foreverisacastironmess2 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The animation of this grim and sombre, yet to me deeply moving and beautifully-constructed short was incredible, the characters looked just like puppets without the strings, and even though they weren't perfectly to the scale of real human beings, I just completely bought them and everything about this magnificently heartbreaking short as real. Of course it's unpleasant, it wouldn't be respectful to the horrendous time it's set in if it wasn't. Even though it's setting is one tiny place with the view of another building across the way, I think it captures very well a good deal of the dire atmosphere of decay and tragedy of a period of human history that I'm quite sure you or I couldn't even imagine living in. So much death and tragedy, enough to change the world... At its worst it must have been like hell on earth. The mournful music theme perfectly compliments the tone and was very emotionally involving to me, I really got into it right away, and I just got a knot in my stomach and got misty-eyed at certain moments, like when the corpse of the poor orphan girl's mother is being carted away and falls out of the cover and the girl cries out and runs to her and is roughly shoved back by the undertaker. That's the thought that I find the most saddening about that time, the helpless innocent ones that must have been left alone in a very cold and hard world to die. The Periwig Maker himself was a fantastically realised character that was excellently voiced by Kenneth Branagh. For a mere quarter of an hour he goes through a real arc and I understood his point of view, he didn't want to die and was just trying to deal with a world gone mad in his own way, pretending not to notice the little girl right outside his window, and attempting to remain snobbishly detached from it all in the seemingly safe haven of his closed off store. But of course inside he's full of emotion. It's so sad when he's visited by the girl's spirit on the night of her death, bringing the supernatural into the narrative. Or, it could be a visual metaphor of his own guilt, it's open to interpretation. And in the end I was very impressed how an animation so laden with despair manages to turn itself around in a mere few seconds and actually end on a hopeful note. And I did find it positive because it was true, the world did change for the better after the Great Plague, the shackles of the almighty Church were loosened and people were more free to have new opportunities and different ways of thinking, that is the bittersweet silver lining that is presented in this short. I was also impressed by how the ending for me at least, didn't conflict with the somewhat bizarre and macabre image of the wig maker wearing a wig that he had fashioned from the beautiful red hair of the girl. Now I personally didn't think that he was wearing the hair out of madness, I think it was more a gesture of his regret that he didn't do anything to aid her when he could have, and the act of using his talent to make the wig and expose himself to the disease was a way of trying to make amends, and also possibly that for better or for worse, he was done being shut away in seclusion and wasn't going to cut himself off from life or death anymore. A truly excellent short, it was haunting, engaging, and I loved it. Take care.
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Very good short
homer_simpson9120 December 2001
The dark animation style and music really gave this short a creepy feeling, which I loved. The story was very interesting, but the ending left me with a kind of "that's it?" feeling. The animation may not be incredibly impressive visually, but it works well with the story, which is one of the better stories for an animated short that I've seen. Check out BALANCE (10/10) if you liked this one.

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Brilliant and unpleasant
MartinHafer13 February 2008
THE PERIWIG-MAKER is a film about one of the many plagues that racked Europe. This one, I assume was Cholera, as the Black Death had attacked Europe in the 14th century and the film was set in the 17th century. Of course, with so many different plagues, it's really hard to say (as well as quite unnecessary). The film shows the perspective of a wig maker as he watches his neighbors drop off one by one. There is nothing sentimental about this film--instead, it just seems to be a straight and no holds barred retelling of events during this plague.

THE PERIWIG-MAKER is an amazing film to watch--it's animation style is beautiful and captivating even if the subject matter of the film is grim and unpleasant. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film but lost to the sentimental film, FATHER AND DAUGHTER. However, I would have voted for THE PERIWIG-MAKER simply because of its breathtaking animation as well as giving us a historical perspective on the plague. that I think about it, considering how down-beat this short was as well as how REJECTED (the other nominee that year) were, I can see why the Academy voted as they did. I certainly don't agree with them, but can understand their logic.
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