LAAPFF 2021 REVIEW: ‘Blush’ (2021) Adds Layers of Emotional Grief and Brings Catharsis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘Blush’ is a spectacular and wondrous animated short film, and one of the best of the year.

Joe Mateo’s short film Blush explores the understanding of love that comes before and after losing someone that you love. A refreshing, heartbreaking and endearing journey of a man who gets stranded on a planet and builds a life with a lonely traveller, this tale is inspired by Mateo’s own life. That is why this short film presented at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is astonishing, in terms of both narrative and visual imagery. 

When a horticulturist-astronaut gets stranded on a dwarf planet, his chances of survival are limited. Knowing that he will not survive this trip, he plants mango trees on the planet when another spaceship crashes on the planet. An ethereal creature named Blush, who has wavy bright pink hair, helps him to grow the trees with her powers and provides oxygen for him to breathe. They begin to spend time together and discover that they have feelings for each other. The heavenly creature and the lonely traveller build a life together on the desolate dwarf planet, welcoming two children who love mangos. They discover that even though time is limited, the universe is filled with eternal love and salvation. 

A computer-animated astronaut wearing a white spacesuit stares in surprise at a pink feminine figure. She has light blue eyes and pink skin and hair, looking at him in surprise as well. Her reflection can be seen in the astronaut's helmet.
Image courtesy of Apple TV+

Blush is a wondrous tale of healing and the understanding of love. In the press notes for the film, Mateo explains that it took him a lot to get out of the dark place in his life to create a project like this to keep his wife’s memory and love perpetually bonded to this world after she died following her battle with cancer. Blush explains the stages of grief in the most heartwarming way possible. The short film expresses that life doesn’t end when loved ones leave, it starts once again when other people are there for support. It is emotional and gut-wrenching when Blush dies, and the world that was created dies with her. She becomes weaker, the trees wither and turn brown and the bright pinkness of the creature dims as she disintegrates and transitions to eternal life, returning to the universe where she belongs. 

The animation and visual imagery in Blush are spectacular, with greens, blues, and pinks dominating the short film. It brings life and energy into the emotional and narrative aspects that contain so much hope and meaning. When the audience sees Blush for the first time, it’s magical. Every shot in the film is meant to express the universality of love, connection and hope. From the moment when Blush holds the astronaut’s hand and shows him how to breathe, these shots show that Blush is the spirit and energy that guards their love and eventually, their home. Scenes of Blush and the astronaut holding hands, eating mangoes, hugging each other, and spending time with their kids are shown in a series of sequences.

A computer-animated man with dark hair and a white shirt looks longingly at a computer-animated female figure with bright pink hair. They sit on a curved limb of a mango tree at night, and the sky glows in blue and pink.
Image courtesy of Apple TV+

The music of Blush is the strongest aspect of the short film as it does not have any dialogue. Mateo worked with composer Joy Ngiaw, who listened to his love story. A big part of creating that emotional music was in how Mateo’s life with his wife began, and that was the foundation for Blush. The music captures this emotional vulnerability in the space of a narrative that explores grief and how difficult it can be for people who have lost loved ones. A story that is filled with grief and loss about losing someone, is meant to bring catharsis to this level of pain. From falling in love to grieving the loss of Blush and letting her go, Ngiaw evokes a wide range of emotions through the score. When Blush dissolves into spiritual space dust, he loses his ability to breathe. This signifies how Mateo felt when his wife died. The reason the short film is set on a tiny planet with no atmosphere is that, when Mateo lost his wife, he couldn’t breathe. Just like Blush, Mateo’s wife was the air that he was breathing all along. The music stops, and it begins again when the astronaut’s children are hugging him. Their presence brings the astronaut back to life, and the planet, just like it did for Mateo. 

Blush is a spectacular and wondrous animated short film, and one of the best of the year. It gravitates and pushes the boundaries of animation, and narratively shows how personal stories are essential in the art of animation. This short film could help people through their journey of grief during these difficult times, which it shows does not have to be lonely. Love and loss are a universal language and Mateo’s keen sense of exploration of these emotions makes Blush a profound story to be shared. Every element in this short film adds a layer of love, connection, grief and loss, and forms the purpose of releasing the pain of losing someone.