Sheldon Cohen’s animated short, The Sweater has a running time of only ten minutes and twenty-one seconds, but it manages to pack a powerful punch. Cohen takes Roch Carrier’s short story – the English text is written by Sheila Fischman – and delivers it to the screen with a master’s skill. The fact that he manages to do this in such a brief period of time only extends this mastery of animation.
The film represents the importance of hockey to boys growing up in rural Quebec, but goes much further, as people all across Canada can relate to the message conveyed. Growing up one lived and breathed hockey. Everyone had their favourite player and you knew all about them, trying not to be like them, but to be them – the way they looked and the way they moved.
In The Sweater the idol for all the boys in Carrier’s small town was Maurice Richard. Richard, nicknamed The Rocket, was a voice for Quebec – a real-life hero. The boys in the film all wore Montreal Canadiens jerseys with Richard’s number nine on the back. When Carrier had to wear the blue Toronto Maple Leafs jersey due to an incorrect shipment from Eaton’s Store in Toronto, that was the ultimate embarrassment and all of Canada can identify with this predicament no matter where you grew up.
The importance of this is recognised on Canada’s five-dollar bill, which depicts a hockey scene and carries the line, "We lived in three places - the school, the church and the skating rink - but our real life was on the skating rink." It has often been said that hockey is a religion in Quebec and all of Canada and this line confirms that.
The film captures the importance of the story with Cohen’s unmistakable style that allows the viewers lose themselves in the setting. A story, be it a novel, short story or poem, can often be lost during the transition from print to film, but Cohen makes certain this doesn’t happen. The Sweater won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for best animated film in 1982.
One could literally write a thesis paper discussing this short and its meanings – and someone likely has – but this reviewer recommends that any hockey fan should search out this masterpiece and experience it for themselves.