In our busy day-to-day lives, it’s hard to be stirred out of ambivalence. Well, for me it is. But when I saw stills from Madame Tutli-Putli, my ambivalence was shaken; I knew I needed to see this movie. Unfortunately, it’s a little-known short film produced by the NFB, and the full recording was nowhere to be found. For months, all I talked about was Madame Tutli-Putli; somehow I would find a way to bring it up in any conversation (much to the dismay of everyone I know). However, my obsession paid off when an obscure connection brought a pre-release DVD into my possession. It was then I fell in love.
The movie, Madame Tutli-Putli, follows the strange and haunting journey of a woman who boards the night train with everything she owns. The filmmakers, Chris Lavis and Macek Szezerbowski, spent over five years making this 17-minute short, which makes sense considering the film is animated with stop-motion. They even spent a month living on a train, learning the rhythm of the locomotion and collecting ghost stories. Everything that appears on screen was made by hand, making every frame visually stunning (I dare you to watch through without pausing at least once to look closer!). There is no dialogue in the whole 17 minutes, but the music is expressive and haunting, which helps carry the story along. The film has won dozens of awards at film festivals all over the world, so clearly I’m not the only one who is overly enthusiastic about it. However, I may be the most enthusiastic about the clothing.
The filmmakers wanted Madame Tutli-Putli to exist as a woman transported from another epoch. She is from an imagined, condensed version of the 20th century. This reads through her clothing, from the tip of her feathered hat, to the sole of her black mary janes. The whole effect produces more of a vintage woman than a woman in vintage clothing. There is no air of dressing up, no irony or nostalgia. Madame Tutli-Putli dresses with conviction. Her period ensemble is refreshing for my postmodern eyes, tired from outfits with mixed signifiers and ambiguous origins. The outfit Madame Tutli-Putli wears is concise, and when put in a contemporary context grounds her character. She may be anxious, but she stays composed by tucking one stoking clad leg behind the other. When she giggles, a gloved hand covers her smirk from her fellow passengers. If clothes make the man, then they make the woman too. Our Madame is less a product of her surroundings than her clothes.
While her clothes may be a little rough around the edges, Madame Tutli-Putli still exudes elegance. Her character seems to realize the whole is greater than the part, or I suppose the outfit greater than the piece. She knows a slightly ripped hat is still better than no hat, as it makes for a better overall effect. When I watch this movie (as I often do when someone new comes over to my house), I stare at the scores of luggage she carries along with her, and wonder what treasures she has hidden away. What beaded, embroidered, felted, and feathered wonders fill those cases? I imagine elegant cocktail dresses, over-the-top smoking jackets, and lace parasols. The character may be fictional, but the filmmakers have created a woman who has stayed with me. Madame Tutli-Putli follows me into every junk shop, wearing that mink stole better than I ever will. She is in every Goodwill, finding the gems amidst the 80s windbreakers, and wearing every piece with awkward grace, but most of all with conviction.