July 9th, 2010

drawing, old man

Translations for June

9 Russian animated films were newly-subtitled in the past month. I'll post most of them in this entry, while a few will be given their own posts.

To see the subtitles, make sure that CC is turned on (click on the triangle in the lower right-hand corner).

"The Little Sparrow", directed by Aleksey Karayev in 1984 (Karayev also directed Welcome, The Lodgers of an Old House, The Sneetches, and I Can Hear You)

(subtitles by Dennis Keen (UCSantaCruzRussian), who applied this translation of the original story, further edited by me, June 2)

Personally, I think that this is a charming film with brilliant use of the cutout animation technique, but it would've been much better to stick with the original ending of the story rather than add in a simplistic moral. In the original ending, the child reading it comes to his own conclusions, which is much more effective.

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drawing, old man

Ilya Muromets and Nightingale the Robber (2007)

ValerieChatoner has finally finished her long project of translating this 2007 animated feature by Melnitsa Animation Studio (directed by Vladimir Toropchin). She uploaded part 1 on June 27, 2009, and part 14 on June 30, 2010. Her subtitles serve as a beautiful tool for people wanting to learn Russian, because both languages are displayed simultaneously on the screen.

The film is the 3rd part of the "3 bogatyrs" trilogy, which star three legendary Russian heros from long ago. Melnitsa had a hit with the first one in 2004, and decided to milk the franchise for all it was worth, much like DreamWorks did with "Shrek" in the United States. The comparisons don't stop there: the films use heavily patriotic Russian motifs but are American structurally, in things like editing, humour and character development.

The film was fairly successful at the Russian box office, gathering at least $9.5 million, which more than covered its budget of $2 million. Internationally, it has been seen at a few film festivals, but no other release.

All 14 parts are embedded below.

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drawing, old man

Surrealist animation from Uzbekistan

"Ready or Not, Here I Come" (literal title, "I Go Seek") was directed in 1992 by the mysterious Vlad Fesenko. The actual story of how the film got made is a bit unclear; in the film itself, only the logo of Moscow's Pilot animation studio appears, while animator.ru says that it was made by Uzbekfilm and the Cinema Technologies Group. My guess about what this means is that it was made at Uzbekfilm (because all of the crew were Uzbekfilm employees), distributed by Pilot (who replaced other logos with their own), and partially funded by Cinema Technologies Group (this group worked with many different studios at this time).

What ended up getting made is one of the best examples of surrealism in animation.

Actually, most of the great examples of surrealism in Russian animation were released by Pilot studio at about this time (late 1980s, early 1990s), and they were mostly directed by new directors who made a brilliant film or two, and then immediately left their profession, often moving to the West to work as commercial animators or in advertising. Other examples include Andrey Svislotskiy's Hypnerotomachia, and Igor Kovalyov's His Wife the Hen and Andrey Svislotskiy (he named the film after his fellow director).

As for Vlad Fesenko, I could find very little information about him. He comes out of nowhere, directs a brilliant film, and then just disappears? Huh? The only film credit prior to this one that I could find is as co-director on "The Tales of Old Usto", a 1986 children's film (you can view a few seconds of it here). In the late 1980s (~1987-1988, maybe starting a year earlier and ending a year later), according to kinoart.ru, Fesenko enrolled in Moscow's Seniour Courses for Screenwriters and Directors, along with Aleksandr Petrov, Ivan Maximov, Mikhail Tumelya, Valeriy Olkovich, Vitaliy Bakunovich and Vadim Medzhibovskiy, with Mikhail Aldashin joining a bit later. There, he received instruction from Fyodor Khitruk, Yuriy Norshteyn and Eduard Nazarov. After 1992, I think I saw him credited for an early 1990s Ukrainian commercial - I can't seem to find it now, though.

Anyway, enough exposition. Please enjoy the film. Analysis and translation notes are below the video. (to make sure subtitles are turned on, click on the triangle on the bottom right and turn on CC) (the .srt subtitle file can be downloaded here, and you can watch the film with the subtitles there too if the below video doesn't work)

The poem at the beginning is rather odd. The first four lines are a traditional counting rhyme for the game of hide-and-seek (although usually only the first two are spoken), while the next four are modified from a "children's poem" written by Valeriy Bryusov in August 1901

The result is a bit unsettling:

Раз, два, три, четыре, пять
Я иду искать
Кто за мной стоит,
тот в огне горит
Слово скажешь, на гулять -
Черной цепи не распять.
Снизу яма, сверху высь,
Между них вертись, вертись.
Кто не спрятался, я не виноват.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
I'll be searching high and low,
Stand behind my back,
and you'll be burned black.
Speak a word, and try to run;
the black chain won't be undone.
Pits below you, cliffs above;
in between, you'll spin and rove.
Ready or not, here I come!

After watching through the film many times, I've begun to see that there is definite purpose in it. Surrealism, after all, is not about being random; it's about using unconventional symbols to portray something that is invisible to the naked eye. I think I understand the beginning and end, but not the middle; if someone can see something that I missed, please leave a post. And so, let's begin.

The film's description on animator.ru says: "In childhood hide-and-seek is a game but in grown-up life it becomes a way of life."

The opening montage (after the counting rhyme) shows us that this kid could have lived in many places; some kids are born in the jungle, some are locked behind bars, and some are born to immediate fame. This particular kid is born in a decaying urban society. Everything in this film is a visual metaphor. Alcoholism is depicted as a hand literally reaching out from the gutter for a bottle, and closing the sewer lid over itself.

So our main character is born into a city that is falling apart, where authorities (represented by the walking hands) are chasing powerless undesirables (represented by flies that scatter when a police whistle blows), as well as other competing powerful figures (hands that give the finger to the police - 2:09 in the video). Lovers hide in the apartments. A sweeper lady tries to clean up some of the mess at first, before breaking her broom and leaving in disgust. Our protagonist witnesses how one of these powerless undesirables (depicted as an insect) is dealt with - the pleading falls on deaf ears as he (or she) is approached to be swatted with a newspaper. This is when an authority figure grabs the kid, stopping him from wandering around and seeing too many things, instead putting him onto a straight-and-narrow railroad to "success".

Our protagonist obediently takes his first steps on this railroad, and soon he's moving faster and faster. Night falls, and he no longer notices the surrounding scenery - his gaze is fixed on the promising lights in the distance, which he's sure to reach... sometime. This hope is represented by the blue ball that he absentmindedly rubs as he sits patiently (i.e. 2:56). The railroad becomes quite hilly, though, and the blue ball (which is revealed to be a bauble of the sort that decorates a New Year tree - in other words, representing hope for the future), is left unattended, falls to the ground and smashes. As soon as that happens, the passengers of the train have no reason to stay on it. Reality changes - the passengers now perceive themselves to not be on the train, but that the train is rolling over them. They stand up, confront the train, and it rolls away and rusts as if it had never been.

At 4:30 begins the middle part of the film that I don't understand very well right now. Having left the train behind, a new society needs to be built. Someone takes it upon himself to look through a theodolite and measure... people. Journalists, military. When some show disloyalty (I think, if I'm interpreting the spitting gesture correctly), he removes the floor beneath them. At 4:51, a single glass cup (in a metal cupholder, which were used on Soviet trains) is placed among other liquid-holders that are made completely of clay or metal. When the steel furnace begins pouring molten metal (maybe this represents the new ruler solidifying control), the glass breaks when the hot liquid reaches it. Again perception changes. The hot liquid has cooled, and everything is frozen. Lovers sitting in a frozen boat sink beneath the ice when consent (represented by the ring) is given. The call of "water!" is answered by a seagull, which flies toward us, and gives us... religion.

Five boys dutifully sit and listen to the completely incomprehensible words of an old rabbi who reads from pages whose actual meaning is much more basic than he lets on. I think that the religion here need not necessarily be Jewish; it could be any incomprehensible old dogma that keeps being repeated up until the point that it suddenly stops being mentioned and is almost like it never was. Only very young people will probably not know what I'm talking about. The rabbi falls silent, and his Torah pointer barely has the strength to flick away a wayward bug from the page. The other four boys tiptoe out of the room, but our protagonist goes up to the religious book.

He walks between the pages of religion, and uses its reassuring "holy text" to seal himself off from the world, reverting to the fetus position and finally to an egg. The view of the outside world from inside the egg is hazy; a woman kisses him, maybe someone throws a rotten egg at him, but it's all a bit far off. Finally, the final scene shows us what he looks like to people from the outside: a dirt-poor sweeper with his eyes symbolically tied shut. Just doing his part to keep the world a bit cleaner, but probably not doing a very good job, because opening his eyes would be too painful.

It strikes me that this film could be a self-portrait (though I stress that I know very little about the director).