Thursday 26 October 2023

Raindance 2023: Tender Metalheads

If you were one of the countless metal fans delighted by the return of legendary melodeath act Dethklok in this year's Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar, you may be pleased to learn that there is another feature-length heavy metal cartoon currently on offer in the form of Joan Tomàs' Tender Metalheads (Catalan: Heavies tendres).  Beyond both titles being animated films which revolve around metal, the movies share a trait in that each is based on a TV series; just as four seasons (and a special) of Adult Swim's much-loved Metalocalypse preceded Army of the Doomstar, Tender Metalheads is derived from the eponymous 2018 show that screened on Catalonian channel TV3.  If your Catalan is up to it—or even if it isn't—you can view all eight episodes of the first (and to date only) series of Heavies tendres via the CCMA website.

Tender Metalheads' minimal, cheerful animation style has already charmed audiences at several film festivals including Annecy IAFF, Sitges IFFF, DOK Leipzig, and Bucharest's Animest—where it won best feature film—and it continues its way round the international festival circuit as one of the selections for this year's Raindance Film Festival, which hosts tomorrow's UK premiere of the film.  The screening—which takes place at London's Vue Piccadilly cinema—will be followed by a Q&A session with director Tomàs and producer Juanjo Sáez, so there's a good reason to stick around once the end credits have rolled.  The early 90s Barcelona-set Tender Metalheads is one of four features in Raindance 2023's special focus on Catalonia; other festival titles from the region include Isabel Coixet's new film Un amor, which will screen as Raindance's closing night gala.

Tender Metalheads centres on two teenagers: the asthmatic Juanjo—who is set to repeat a high school year—comes from a loving if somewhat overprotective family, while the streetwise Miquel's home life is rather more chaotic and dysfunctional.  Yet despite their quite different backgrounds, the pair quickly form a bond over their love for heavy metal, a genre that is largely unfamiliar to Miquel when the boys first meet—although this problem isn't one that can't be solved by, of all things, a melted Phil Collins LP (the film unspools in a wonderfully analogue world still ruled by vinyl and cassettes, despite 1991 being the year when the CD finally eclipsed both of these formats).  While all band art seen in the film displays the names of real artists—such as Iron Maiden and Sepultura—the musical arrangements, ingeniously, skew each track just a fraction wide of the original recording.

One of the film's highlights takes the form of Juanjo and Miquel's first experience of that most polarising of metal releases, Metallica's Black Album, and Tender Metalheads' quite superb take on that record's absurdly familiar opening notes underlines why the film is set in 1991 (Metallica's watershed album aside, there's also the not inconsiderable matter of life in pre-Olympic Barcelona).  This is a moving and funny work, although it should be conceded that metalheads—teenage or otherwise—will squeeze a few extra drops of joy from the various musical references; certainly, if you want to hear an off-the-wall parody of "Run to the Hills", this film has you covered.  Yet there's a universality to the story of Juanjo and Miquel as they navigate those oh-so-tricky high school years.  A sweet pathos runs through this hugely appealing film, which stands as one of 2023's cinematic highlights.

Darren Arnold