Put in the most straightforward way possible, Corrinne James’ Starshine Mountain is a film about guilt and regret. It’s about doing something that you aren’t sure can be forgiven, and then figuring out if you can forgive yourself anyway, or if you even should. Yes, the story involves magical moth jars and flying creatures and a sky cyclops and a mysterious red blotch that can destroy an entire planet. Yes, it switches between charmingly crude animation and nano-budget 16mm cinema, with stilted, monotone narration. Those choices, I guess, are just how those emotions needed to be explored.

It’s strange to say that a story about a one-eyed being who accidentally destroys a planet full of life feels deeply personal, but it’s the truth. It would be easy enough to read Starshine Mountain as a film about climate change and our societal guilt over the damage we’ve caused without ever consciously intending it. Despite its interplanetary scale, though, James’ film feels more intimate than that. The grand disaster feels more like a substitute for small-scale hurt than a way to channel global anxiety.

Maybe that’s because James’ filmmaking is so handmade. The crude quality of some of the animation and especially of the costumes and props in Starshine Mountain’s live-action section might be off-putting for some viewers, but they also add to the film’s immediacy. They help lend it a tone somewhere between a fable, a dream, and a children’s story—all of which are tools we use to understand feelings we can’t quite articulate. Sometimes being aware of a story’s artificiality makes it that much more effective.

If Starshine Mountain is too much for a first impression of James’ work, 2018’s Jealousy, Guilt, and the Sun might be an easier entry point. It’s a little less whimsical, a little more overtly poetic, and a lot shorter. Both are wonderful in their own way, but Starshine is bolder, stranger, and more ambitious—traits we always want to celebrate.

Starshine Mountain

dir: Corrinne James
syn: A story of a young woman and the guilt that she feels after destroying a planet full of life. As the woman tries to cope with such guilt, she questions the purpose of the living world and learns that trees and flowers have emotional value that could never be replaced.

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