Films included in this volume: Seasons (I. Ivanov-Vano, 1969), Ballerina on a Boat (L. Atamanov, 1969), Armoire (A. Khrjanovsky, 1970), Battle of Kerjenets (I. Ivanov-Vano and Yuri Norstein, 1971), Butterfly (A. Khrjanovsky, 1972), Island (F. Khitruk, 1973), Fox and Rabbit (Y. Norstein, 1973), Heron and Crane (Y. Norstein, 1974), Hedgehog in the Fog (Y. Norstein, 1975), Crane's Feathers (I. Garanina, 1977), Firing Range (A. Petrov, 1975), Contact (Vladimir Tarasov, 1978).
The artists featured on the second volume of Image Entertainment and Jove Films' enchanting Masters of Russian Animation, in their decision to abandon the real world in favor of one over which they have complete control, knew full well the inherent power of images. Each of the twelve short films presented on the disc, spanning a broad range of styles and moods, is more astounding than the next. Unfettered by the laws of nature, the animator's vision is of the purest essence, limited only by the boundaries of their imagination (a lesson well learned by modern visionaries like Tim Burton and the Brothers Quay). Given the oppressive conditions under which these films were created -- Russia has never been a bastion of free speech and unrestrained creativity -- the decidedly upbeat message delivered by most of the shorts came as somewhat of a surprise^Ethe overall picture painted is glaringly positive.
The most visually stunning piece in the set comes from Ivan Ivanov-Vano and Yuri Norstein (whose 1979 film, Tale of Tales, was deemed the best animated film of all time by a group of international animation historians). Entitled Battle at Kerzhenets, the short illustrates the onslaught of an army of foreign invaders on the unsuspecting people of Russia, portrayed in the style of the ancient masters. The Russian women, cradling infants, their robes laced with gold, look unmistakably like the Blessed Mother of the Classical period, leading one to believe that the advancing hordes have come to not only destroy the people, but their religious beliefs, as well. The filmmakers used breathtaking stop-motion animation, cut paper, and forced perspective to bring the battle at Kerzhenets to life. The invaders are draped in black and gold, their ebony horses breathing fire as they storm across the battlefield. To great effect, the score (by Rimsky Korsakov) increases in intensity as the confrontation progresses. The final moments of the battle are especially devastating: their earthly shells heaped in mounds, the spirits of the dead -- black bodies silhouetted in neon blue -- oversee the arrival of their fallen comrades into the afterlife, far and away the film's most affecting sequence. All is not without hope, however, as evidenced by the film's final sequence in which the survivors of the confrontation rise up to rebuild their shattered lives.
The twelve films, digitally restored from new 35 mm prints (struck by the National Film Archive of Russia) and presented in a number of different aspect ratios, look absolutely stunning. The overall quality of the collection is not hampered in the slightest by the few infrequent bursts of print damage and minor discoloration, a fact of life when dealing in films of this vintage. The collection spans the gamut from wildly colorful (Vladimir Tarasov's Contact) to downright dismal (Yuri Norstein's dreary Hedgehog in the Fog), all of which are magnificently displayed in crisp, superbly detailed transfers. The mono soundtrack, while not as robust as it could have been (Tchaikovsky has definitely sounded better), serves the imagery well -- Vince Bonavoglia, DVD Unleashed