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Agua Viva – by Alexa Lim Haas

A short animation about feelings that no language can describe.

2018 | 5 - 10 | Animation | Communication | Drama | USA

Winner of SXSW Best Animation Short in 2018, Alexa Lim Haas’ animation Agua Viva is a poetic animation about communication, words and feelings that words cannot express.

Protagonist of the short is a Chinese girl who works as a beautician in a Miami beauty salon. MeiMei (her name quickly appears on a badge she is wearing while massaging a client’s legs) seems to be a pretty shy character, the kind who leaves the fan on to avoid talking to clients. However, her job forces her to make physical contact with other people, sometimes in intimate ways.

Alone and far from home, MeiMei struggles to find the words to describe her feelings in a foreign language: “Words are so solid, but my thoughts are so fluid”, she says. Despite her self-confessed struggle to communicate, her words make her emotions immediately clear.

On the day of her birthday, MeiMei examines her hard-working body and the way she treats it: she’s been peeling her fingers, biting her cheeks, overloading herself with sugar. Her body mirrors her health, physical as much as mental. There’s a strong element of nostalgia in her reflections – about time passing by, things that change and things that don’t. As we learn from her internal monologue, she has challenged herself, and left home thinking that leaving her comfort zone would help her, but nothing has really changed: her desire to connect to others clashes with her inability to do so.

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Her reflections bring back memories and make her question her life and the miles she has travelled. “There is a way I thought I’d be, and a way I am”, says MeiMei. This seems to be the real centre of her struggle, suggesting that perhaps her communication problem doesn’t lie only in the language, but somewhere else – somewhere words can barely describe.

With beautiful illustrations, as fluid and poetic as MeiMei’s words, Haas does an incredibly accurate job at depicting such a mute feeling as incommunicability, the interior world of a woman and her longing for a deeper connection.

Federica Pugliese

Federica Pugliese

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