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A Long Time Ago... (Когда-то давно)

A Long Time Ago... (Когда-то давно)

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drawing, old man
Four years after her poetic film about ancient family grief, director Galina Barinova moved into the science fiction genre with this strange, engaging, nearly wordless film.



The animation in Galina Barina's films is awe-inspiring. In this particular film, the methodical, smooth slowness of the movements, coupled with the innovative art direction remind me a bit of "The King and the Mockingbird", and even more so of Richard Williams' "Thief and the Cobbler". Even the majestic first appearance of the dragon brings to mind the first appearance of the War Machine. The beautiful art direction exudes a strange, timeless, enchanting atmosphere, with a bit of grittiness added by using a certain texture behind the colours. It fits perfectly with the scenario of the film, which may be set in the remote future or in the remote past.

The story is a cycle - like an ouroborous (the mythical dragon that eats its own tail). The film starts by introducing us to a worker who works at a strange factory that endlessly makes circles into squares and back again (a bit of foreshadowing, there). At the end of the day, he retires to his home and to his beloved lady. Unexpectedly, the media singles them out and makes them into celebrities, who must provide entertainment for the city's television-addicted inhabitants. The scene of the couple being pursued by giant video cameras on legs is one of the most memorable in the film for me.



But this seemingly charmed life has a terrible price. Because of her elevation to the position of "most beautiful woman in the city", the man's beloved is taken away for sacrifice to a terrible mechanical dragon that menaces the city. The theme of the sacrifice of the damsel to the dragon is ancient and recognizable in many countries. It is also present in a good amount of Russian folklore.

The grief-stricken man is donated resources by the city's citizens to go destroy the evil. And he goes... but in the end, he becomes what he is fighting, and the cycle begins anew. The people in control change, but the beast doesn't, for the people within the beast no longer perceive it as such. And this, too, is an ancient and fundamental idea. For example, to this day, we all know that governments take up the habits that they were fighting against once they gain power.

Also, it would be an injustice to not mention the wonderful synthesized music that so perfectly captures both the lyrical and the action-filled parts of the film.

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Galina Barina has made two masterpieces, from what I have seen. "When the Sand Will Rise..." is one, and this is the second. In her earlier films, she experimented with other techniques. Notably, many of her early films, until the mid-1980s, used cutout animation. But I have to say that her way of animating is far more suited to traditional animation. It took her a long while to find mastery with her voice, maybe because her voice is so distinct. Many of her other films either lack a solidly-presented screenplay (and the overall impression of them is rather average), or are just too strange to make sense of (as is the case with her wordless adaptation of a famous Tatar poem, "Şüräle" - though it gets better on repeat viewings).

Of her later early-1990s films, her 1991 adaptation of Ivan Bilibin's artworks, "Ivan Tsarevich and Grey Wolf", is not a bad film but feels stilted and constrained, almost like a history lesson. It feels stifled by the source material, rather than inspired. Her 1993 film about "Jester Balakirev" (her last work) feels even more awkward, despite the screenplay being written by two respected masters of writing and directing, Leonid Nosyrev and Anatoliy Petrov. Perhaps the problem with those two films is that they feature heavy use of dialogue, while Barina's best films feature almost none.
  • даа, красивая фабула

    внутренний - внешний
  • A Long Time Ago

    A superb film that I have had the pleasure of writing about on my blog today(http://www.animationblog.org/). It is difficult to think of something original to say when you have dealt with the subject so comprehensively. Galina Barina is a most interesting director and this a most unusual film. A bit like the Russian doll that has many layers to it. Thanks for the recommendation and placing the film on YouTube.
    Ian
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