Ruth Beni and Daniel Greaves’ All of Our Shadows is a sensitive and compassionate look at the fears and anxieties of a schoolboy in central London. The animation, lush and richly textured, creates a comfortable and almost childlike atmosphere, which contrasts powerfully with the serious tone of the film’s narrative. The intrusion of anxiety and fear into such a visually comfortable space creates a deep atmosphere of sadness, lending the film an emotional resonance that goes beyond its aesthetics or narrative alone.
The film details a day in the life of a young boy plagued by anxiety, terrified of the knife crime and gang violence that seems to pervade his and his schoolmates’ lives. The fear, represented by an ominous dark cloud that follows the boy, renders him quiet and introverted. At school he is withdrawn, unable to concentrate and hounded by the ever-looming cloud of fear. However, a classmate reaches out to our protagonist, offering him comfort and revealing that they, too, suffer from stress and anxiety. Eventually, many of his classmates come forward and share their experiences with anxiety, and the boy is soothed by the notion that he is no longer alone.
Visually, the style of All of Our Shadows is tactile and warm, reminiscent of a children’s TV show and a million miles from the minimalist “Alegria” style animation that plagues so much of today’s animated films. There is a sincerity to it, a soul which immediately strikes the viewer, drawing us in emotionally as well as aesthetically. The eponymous shadows which envelop the warm animation are thus made so much more powerful, covering and blocking the happy, kind colours. Similarly, All of Our Shadows’ sound design is expressive and moving, reflecting the intense ups and downs of living with anxiety. At times it pounds, driving the piece along with energetic drum work. At others, the sound drops out completely and we are left with a silence that deafens, opening up a chasm of fear, which is as impactful as any sound that preceded it. This keen awareness of the effect of sound and visuals on the affective power of the film elevates the piece and deepens its emotional complexity.
As the film progresses, it taps into a vein of heartfelt kindness. The boy’s classmates, all of whom are ostensibly quite different to him, reveal their own personal stresses and fears. Although the writing here is rough and a little overly sentimental, it does not detract but rather heightens the sweetness of the film. The children speak like children, explaining their fears clumsily and frankly, and here is where the film is at its peak. There is a deep sadness to be found in the horrors of racism, violence and confusion the children are exposed to, but also a warmth in their resilience to it. All of Our Shadows is sad in its relevance and its necessity, but it does not dwell on the horrors of violence and horror. Instead, it focuses on the power of camaraderie in the face of fear, and ultimately empowers the anxious and scared.