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The best Russian animated film of 2007 (my choice)

The best Russian animated film of 2007 (my choice)

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drawing, old man
I'd like to bring some attention to a film that I think has been overlooked. Now, I haven't seen every Russian animated film made in 2007; many of them were never posted online by their creators. I haven't seen the films that won the #2 and #3 jury rating at the 2008 Open Russian Festival of Animated Film in Suzdal in March of this year. But most of the past year's films could be viewed online on Rambler Vision (I say could because none of the videos on Rambler Vision have been working for the past month or two; all of them now show a black screen and the words "this video is awaiting moderation").

The Grand Prix of the Festival went to Ivan Maximov's wordless film "Rain Down from Above" (video here). It is a great film, no doubt about it. It's fun, the events progress steadily yet surely, and for me, it is the closest that one of Maximov's films has come to losing the artificiality that I usually find in his work.

Other highlights of the festival included Kuygorozh and The Hare Servant by Pilot Studio (videos here and here, but no English subtitles), and the wordless macabre slapstick film Poor Yorik (video here), which won the Aleksandr Tatarskiy Award, decided posthumously by the masters Norshteyn, Nazarov and Golovanov.

However, the most outstanding (yet unrecognized) film of the festival was, I feel, The Dog Door (Собачья дверца) by director Natalya Malgina at Animos Studio. It is based on the novel "Goodbye, Ravine" by Konstantin Sergiyenko, which follows a community of homeless dogs who live in a ravine which is gradually being surrounded by the city. It is funny, moving, and very poignant.

English translation/subtitles were added by myself, and I'd like to thank the Youtube user AxmxZ who helped with some phrases.
Russian animation: The Dog Door (+English subtitles) from Niffiwan on Vimeo.

There are a number of things that I admire about the film:
First, how real and alive each of the characters seems to be, even though most of them have little screen time. The animation is amazing, but so is the script and direction. I really came to care for all of them. Even the most at-first-glance simple characters turn out to have more to them than meets the eye (see: the dog on the balcony). I think this is because you get the sense that each of them has their own stories going on, though the film doesn't focus on them. All-too-often in some films, characters seem to exist at the convenience of the main plot. Or, even worse, they're little more than a fancy doodle.

However, in this film, the cast of characters is colourful and complex:
There's the main character, a dog called "Proud" by his pack and "Tawny" (after his coat colour) by the man who heals his paw and by the dog on the balcony. He is torn between his love for his pack and his one chance to enter the mythical "Dog Door" (see the dream sequence), but he chooses his pack every time (even while never completely joining it) until that choice becomes impossible.
There's Black, the strong and brutal dog who's the leader of the pack (but he truly does care for them). He values honesty above all, hates anything less than total freedom (and hates humans because of it), and hates the cat Miyamoto for his self-aggrandizing nature.
There's the wiener dog with the scarf around her neck who lives in the past and cannot accept her present situation.
There's Miyamoto, the "Japanese" cat who considers himself to be a samurai and the catching of mice to be demeaning to his station. He's generally the object of humour in the film. He's friends with Proud, perhaps because Proud is the only one who'll listen to his tall tales.
There's Wee, a young little dog who always seems to be happy at everything, yet his life is tinged with sadness.
There's Lame, an old dog with a lame leg who is Proud's teacher. He experienced the Dog Door himself long ago and at the end of his story... when he dies, one might imagine that his soul escapes through the ring.
There's the dog on the balcony, who is unable to leave his little apartment and incapable of doing anything except barking at all the other characters. Until, that is, he sees that Proud is just as sad as he is, and then he lets down his mask and talks to him normally.
And there's the gentle artist who heals Proud's paw and becomes his owner.

Nine characters in total, and the only one who isn't developed very well is the woman who becomes the artist's wife. All the others felt like real people to me, not just drawings.

Another thing I loved was how effectively such a complex story was fit into the running time of a short film. For example, in many scenes throughout the film, we see tractors, trucks and cranes in the background, slowly filling in the ravine that the dogs live in. This is never talked about by anyone in the film, least of all by the dogs themselves; it is just part of their environment. It is a disaster in slow motion, beyond their control, and they do not even think about it unless it affects them directly (as when a tractor drives at them in the beginning). And yet, slowly but surely, over the course of a year or so, their world is completely destroyed around them. A less skilled scriptwriter would have had some crude, dramatic scene in the film where the dogs "suddenly realize" that they must stop what is going on and try to futilely fight the machines.

"The Dog Door" won no awards at the Suzdal Festival, and was 21st place in the professional rating. And yet... it won the audience choice award at the International Sretensk Film Festival, and in the thread discussing the Suzdal festival on prodisney.ru (one of the main Russian animation forums), a good third of the discussion was focused on the film.
  • Thank you for the wonderful film!
  • I can see why it won Audience Choice. It's a very moving story.

    Is there anywhere I can download or find a DVD copy?
    • Unfortunately, it has not yet been released on DVD. I hope there are plans. This studio has made a number of very good short films recently, and it would be great if they released a DVD collection (maybe even with English subtitles?...).

      For now, you can download the video from Vimeo from the link on the lower right (although it's not DVD-quality).

      You can also a higher-quality file on http://mults.spb.ru, among other places (it's still not DVD quality, but it's nicer). I earlier wrote a guide about how to use that website; your speed is limited to 16kb/s, and there are other restrictions.

      The subtitle file can be downloaded here.

      Since the creators have uploaded the film onto a number of video-sharing websites, I'm assuming that they have no problem with people seeing it. Still, I plan to support them by buying the DVD if they do release one.
      • Thanks so much! At this point, I'll take what I can find quality-wise. The story is what matters.

        I really do hope they release a DVD of this stuff. I will be first in line to buy if it does.
  • Oh I came through the animation comm, and I can only say thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and touching work. *sniffles* I almost cried, the characters are just so alive!

    Thank you again!
  • Ive noticed thst Cats are usually the villains in russian animation
    • Really? I'm trying to think of one where a cat is the villain, and nothing immediately comes to mind.

      But Miyamoto isn't the villain in this film; he's mainly the comic relief.
  • потрясающая версия!
    очень похоже по ощущениям
    которые переживаешь после спектакля
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