Director/co-writer John Canemaker tells a presumably autobiographical story that makes Noah Brumbach look like he was too easy on his father in "The Squid and the Whale." It brings genealogy to life in a uniquely beautiful way.
Canemaker uses a dazzling array of animation styles and techniques, from black and white photographs to colorful childish drawings and much, much more, to tell the raw story of his bullying Italian immigrant father and his fraught relationship with him. He is like a wizard calling forth all the considerable creative talents at his command to not just recreate the vanished world of his and father's pasts but to try to effect an impossible reconciliation. It's like he is clenching and unclenching his fists throughout the film. While Faulkner-like the past is never past, he goes to extraordinary visual lengths to try and understand how he and his father became the men they are and were.
I can't think of any animated short I've seen before where I was so more emotionally involved in the story than in the images. As narrators, John Turturro as The Son and Eli Wallach as The Father (with the non-Anglicized version of the director's last name) eerily capture a tale that swings from light-hearted to horrific, sweet to scary, angry to sympathetic. It is a very unusual perspective on The American Dream across all of the 20th century as it swings back and forth from bitter and cynical to loving and almost forgiving.
The film incidentally illustrates an aspect of Italian immigration that has been documented by historians, such as Mark Wyman's "Round Trip to America: The Immigrants Return to Europe, 1880-1930" and Betty Boyd Caroli's "Italian Repatriation from the United States, 1900-1914" but not generally in popular culture.
This film was viewed as part of a commercial screening of Oscar nominated shorts.