Sunday, 13 April 2008

Aleksandr Petrov "The Mermaid"

In 1997 Geri’s Game directed by Jan Pinkava won the Academy Award. One of the short listed movies it was preferred to was Russian director Aleksandr Petrov's The Mermaid, (or the YouTube version Rusalka and
Rusalka 2) the subject of this post. Based on an Alexander Pushkin poem, the story is of an elderly priest whose past mistreatment of a young girl returns to haunt him as the young trainee he is responsible for is seduced by a nymph of the sea. In a breathtaking early sequence the young man sees a girl drowning in the fast moving ice drifts, her arms helplessly grasping for safety, her voice calling out in alarm. He rescues her only for the girl to disappear, leaving footprints to the ocean. She reappears and in a series of charming sequences the pair cavort together. There is a legend of a mythological Slavic creature, the Rusalka, who would charm young men with her song and dance only to take revenge - though Wikipedia has an interesting note that the girls are not always malevolent. I am also too well aware of the story of the Sirens and maybe I should be lashed to the mast for the pair's adventures do seem like reciprocated, if innocent, love to me. In a series of flashbacks we learn that the youth's mentor had known the girl in his early life but had chosen to marry another. We guess she had taken her life and that her reappearance is an attempt to wreak revenge. A single wrinkle of the girl's nose at the appearance of the old man is sufficient to suggest malice however, though the conclusion where malevolence (or sheer foolhardy exhilaration of young love) leads to a capsized boat is somewhat confused by the appearance of a tempest over the water that might just interpret the incident as accident rather than revenge. I mentioned at the outset the excellent Geri's Game though I personally would have awarded Petrov the prize - a situation that resolved a year or so later and the subject of my next post on this inspirational animator. I have read criticism referring to a confusion in Aleksandr's story-telling. It is certainly truncated in the movie, particularly in the arguably melodramatic flashback of the wedding, and perhaps the ending is not what I would have chosen, though there is a subtlety in the movie that renders any definitive explanation difficult. It is sumptuously drawn in oil on glass, the detail being extraordinary. Just watch how the technique works as beads of water trickle down the girl's hair or as her hand appears through the ice flow.

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