Dcera (meaning “daughter”) is a short film from the Czech Republic.

Though it is a foreign film, there are no subtitles as there is no dialogue.

Of the five Oscar nominees this year for the Best Animated Short Film, I’d say this was the most obscure. Not horribly so, though. It was not that hard for me to have at least a general idea of what was going on, though I’m sure I missed plenty of the subtlety and symbolism.

I liked this one quite a bit, which is not often the case with obscure material. But I think three factors overcame the fact that I couldn’t always discern what was going on in detail. One, I still got the gist of the events, of the story. Two, even if the facts were at times obscure, the emotions came through loud and clear; this is a powerful little film. Three, the animation is unusually well done and of an intriguing style, so the film is visually arresting.

The film jumps around chronologically. As best I can determine, a little girl has an experience with her father (from the animation style, I thought there was about a 90% chance it was her father and a 10% chance it was her mannish, Eastern European mother, but descriptions of the film identify the person as her father) that seriously alters their relationship for the worse, and we then get snapshots of later times in their lives, up to and including when he is evidently on his death bed, showing how the damage persists.

That initial incident itself is one of the elements I found obscure, but again only modestly in that I’m pretty sure I get the general idea even if I’m less confident of all the details. The daughter, as a little girl, runs frantically up the stairs of what I suppose is their apartment building, holding what looks like a little bird, maybe injured. She bursts into her apartment, sees her father standing at the stove cooking, and throws her arms around him, looking distraught and in need of some kind of affection, reassurance, or assistance.

He looks taken aback but not unsympathetic or disapproving. He does not return the hug, holding his arms away from his body and away from her kind of awkwardly, I think because he has flour or something cooking-related covering his hands. He lets her hug him for several seconds though, and then gently nudges her away, like, “OK, that’s enough now. Settle down. Let me get back to what I’m doing.”

I’m not sure what exactly is the deal with the bird. I didn’t get the impression it was a pet of hers; I think it came from outside, not a cage. I suppose she’s upset because it’s hurt and suffering, but I didn’t see that she clearly showed it to her father and asked him to do something to help it. I got the sense she was primarily bothered by his not returning her hug rather than because of anything related to the bird.

So I think the idea is that there was this emotionally highly influential incident of her childhood where she became convinced that her father was a cold person who wasn’t willing to show her love and affection when she craved it most, and that that was all a misinterpretation of his actions which instead were based on the mundane matter of his hands not being clean and dry and not wanting to get flour or whatever on her and her clothes. And as indicated by the chronologically later scenes, their relationship never recovered from this misunderstanding.

Which to me highlights—though this is likely a too straightforward or obvious spin to put on it—the importance of communication in a relationship, including between parent and child. They are both obviously very hurt for decades by their deteriorated relationship, the lack of trust, the feeling of betrayal. All of which could have been avoided if they were capable of something as simple as, “Hey, I was really hurt that you wouldn’t hug me back earlier. What was going on there?” “Oh yeah, I’m sorry about that. But my hands were all covered in flour and it all happened so suddenly that I kind of froze and tried not to get it on you. It certainly had nothing to do with not loving you or not wanting to support you with a hug.” And then you don’t have to go through decades of estrangement that neither of you want.

I guess that wouldn’t make for as interesting a film, though.

But as far as the animation, I just found it quite interesting. There’s the frantic running up the stairs, where for a time you see things from her perspective and you hear the loud pounding of her shoes on the stairs. There’s the fact that the film is drawn to create the illusion of the shaking of a handheld camera. I don’t remember it all; I just remember being quite impressed with the visuals.