Signe Baumane’s animated feature “Rocks in My Pockets” looks and sounds like a kid’s movie with whimsical drawings, papier-mâché backdrops and the kind of overly expressive narration usually reserved for bedtime stories. But as soon as Baumane discusses how completely she’s considered the logistics of her suicide, which would include a rope and an adult diaper, it’s clear this cartoon isn’t for kids. There is a big bad wolf, in a sense, but it lives in the minds of the women in Baumane’s family who have had suicidal tendencies.
Baumane is looking for answers as she recounts the experiences of her grandmother, cousins and aunts. She’s trying to understand how she ended up with debilitating depression, and she clearly believes it’s been passed down to her like some cursed heirloom. She explains how it began with her grandmother, who was found fully clothed in a river, seemingly trying to end her life. Times weren’t easy back then: The woman had eight children and a jealous husband, and lived in a remote area of Latvia where her existence depended on the whims of invading parties, whether the Soviets or the Nazis.
But even the woman’s descendants, in less dire circumstances, were similarly plagued by a darkness that led to pills and nooses and hospital stays. We see and hear all of these stories before Baumane moves onto her own tale.
The Latvian artist, who wrote and directed the movie (her first), has a fresh way of describing scenes and feelings, and an even more intriguing way of animating them. She compares her mind to a badly wired building and portrays her depression as a large, spiky ball that decimates everything in its path before it takes up the screen entirely. But as ominous as the stories are, they’re never entirely bleak. Baumane has a great sense of humor and she reads her lines as if each one ends in an exclamation point. She even describes a kind of cure for her own symptoms, which brings a sense of hopefulness. And the movie is set to a playful score by Kristian Sensini.
There are slow bits, as Baumane delves into stories that are less interesting than others. But overall, her family history is rife with complex characters, and she brings them all to life in a loving, if scrutinizing, way.
★ ★ ★
Unrated. At Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains strong language and animated nudity.
Director Signe Baumane and producer Sturgis Warner will be present for Q&As following the 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday.