Elulu is Gabriel Verdugo Soto’s passion project. He worked on it solo for 8 years, pouring it out directly from his heart to the movie screen.

Primarily animated, Elulu mixes real photo backgrounds with animated 2D effects and 3D characters. It has no dialogue to speak of. it is an exploration of grief and goodbye like you’ve never seen.

A man returns to his childhood home after the death of his mother and finds that mourning her is complex and non-linear. In between every day tasks like feeding his cat and pursuing a career in theoretical physics, this man is grieving, inspired by the objects and spaces last occupied by his mother. Her spirit seems to live in them, as if her consciousness had somehow been absorbed by them, a shadow of her life and memories remaining, leaving a gateway for the man to remember and celebrate her. His thoughts devolve into memory, revisionism, and fantasy, the stories recalled from childhood resurfacing, and his mother herself found living in one of his paintings (I did warn you this was going to be different).

As for Elulu, you’ll find that he is a magical caterpillar come to ask something of a grieving man. But he also inspires the man to discover love, connection, past and present from different angles. Elulu is a physical manifestation of string theory. You heard me: a string theory magic caterpillar. Don’t be intimidated; Elulu, the film, is meant to be felt more than understood. It’s like the wind. And while I won’t pretend to define string theory for you, let’s just agree that it at least posits the existence of more than just the dimensions we’re familiar with (length, width, breadth, time). String theory contends that elementary particles aren’t just mathematical points but tiny strings which require not 3 but 10 spatial coordinates in addition to time, but most of these, sometimes interpreted as ‘alternative universes’ are simply too small to observe. But Elulu seems to navigate these, and helps the man drift between physical and metaphysical worlds, finding that his deceased mother still exists in some of them.

I don’t mean to make this sound complicated, I only want to give you a tast4e of Soto’s ambition and the borderless, limitless world in which his protagonist exists. With flashbacks and magical realism, we make the jump between the observable universe in which his mother is dead, into pockets of time and space where she might never die. It’s a comfort and a salve. But the film itself isn’t complicated at all as long as you treat it like a dream in which rules simply don’t exist. The narrative is what we make it, the story can change without notice, the images aren’t necessarily direct representations. It’s what you feel that matters, what the stories and images evoke for you. Elulu is both emotional and cerebral, operating on a higher plane than most other films, but it still feels accessible and looks beautiful and strange. Soto’s meditation on consciousness and grief will have different meanings for each viewer, making it a unique film experience and a wondrous exploration of life’s mysteries and the nature of existence.

Elulu is an official selection of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

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