September 30th, 2021

drawing, old man

The films of Irina Litmanovich (b. 1980)

Recently I've added her films to the database, and improved the English translations (significantly so, for the 2nd film), so I think it's a good time to write a few words.

Born in Rostov-on-Don in 1980, Irina Litmanovich graduated from art school in Voronezh in 1995, and lived in Israel between 1997 and 2004, where she completed her first film The Letter in 2002, based on the work of Daniil Harms (not currently online, but here's some concept art from her LJ account: 1 2 3 4 5).

In 2004, she moved back to Russia, did some work for Pilot Studio's Mountain of Gems series, and graduated from the Advanced Courses for Directors at the SHAR School-Studio (workshop of Fyodor Hitruk and Aleksey Demin), with her diploma work being the short comedic Jewish-themed film Khelom's Customs, which was quite well-received. She has since made two other films at Aquarius Film studio, and done illustrations for some books. Her official website has more information.

The style of her films seems to be inspired by the films of Yuriy Norshteyn (though her animation technique is not as complex). Only the first is an all-ages film. Though the others are each at least partly about childhood, they are not for children. All of them have won awards at different film festivals.

Click on the images below to watch the films with English subtitles on

Litmanovich's Khelom's Customs (2005) is approachable, charming, funny, well-constructed, and has great music. It's the sort of thing that probably can be shown to anyone without needing any sort of preparation.

It's adapted from a charming poem by the Jewish Soviet poet Ovsey Driz (read it in the original Russian here) about a European Jewish town that has a mouse problem, but each cure they try only makes matters worse.

In Household Romance (2010), there almost isn't a story, just a sequence of events that follow one another, some of which are related or follow from earlier events (the "Voice of America", the war song...). But a story does not really seem to be the point, rather it is to lovingly record the "mundane" things that made up Litmanovich's cherished childhood in the Soviet early 1980s; to capture the overall mood. The basic idea is summed up in the last scene of the film, which shows our three characters (father, mother and daughter) each doing their own thing, yet peacefully sharing the same space. The piano that is played by the girl's father in the film was in fact actually performed by Irina Litmanovich's father.

The film's biggest flaw is probably that it often lacks forward momentum - but sometimes one is in the mood for precisely a film like this, which can be watched without stress. One of my favourite Russian animated films, The Lodgers of an Old House, is like this as well. Also, my favourite parts of Norshteyn's Tale of Tales (which I suspect was at least some of the inspiration for this film), were like that too. Though it is like Tale of Tales in that it is an attempt to "pin" the director's childhood on film, it is unlike it in being entirely grounded in the real world and having no surreal/dream logic at all.

However, this changes with Litmanovich's next film Hand Crafted Clouds (2015). This one is a sort of romance about two people, and consists of vignettes of scenes with their interactions, from early childhood, to maturity, all the way until old age, after one of the two is left alone. These vignettes often stray into dream-logic territory (especially in the middle of the film), and it can be hard to know when precisely this happens. It is a long film, and (like Hrzhanovskiy's Lion with a Grey Beard) a fair amount of screen time is spent on the end of the story. Actually, I found the end to be (masterfully done and) quite devastating - but we need to watch films like this too, to prepare ourselves for when these things happen to us as well.

I do not know if Litmanovich will make another film. Gathering the resources for them seems to be a struggle.

The budget for Hand Crafted Clouds was 2,200,000 rubles (~$30,000 US), of which the Russian Ministry of Culture paid 70%, while just over half of the remaining 30% (600,000 rubles) was raised through the crowd-funding site, and the rest through anonymous big donors. In 2019, she announced that she was starting another animated film titled One Day from the Life of Aleksandr Volodin (a Soviet playwright) with a total budget of 7,000,000 (~$96,250 USD), of which 2,000,000 rubles had already been raised. The modest campaign concluded successfully, but she was left with another 4,500,000 rubles yet to raise. I'm not sure if there's been any news since.

I hope that this is not the end, because she has a unique voice and I've enjoyed everything I've seen from her.