Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Aleksandr Petrov "The Cow"

Oscar winner Aleksandr Petrov’s 1989 classic The Cow commences in smoke and darkness as a boy runs towards a passing train. The noise and scene gradually change as he enters a barn where a cow is giving birth. In a lonely farm beside a railway track a family eke out a living from the soil on the endless Russian steppes. As trains pass by constantly but never stop, the cow provides the small family with milk and pulls the plough. Meanwhile the young bull grows under the watchful gaze of the young boy of the family, from beautiful calf hand fed by the mother under the gaze of the dozing boy to frolicking youngster in the fields. Rather prematurely, due to financial constraints, the bull is taken by the farmer to the abattoir whilst mother and child look on aghast and the struggling cow is tethered tight. This act changes the fortunes of the family for the worse. The tale is clearly a recollection with all the mysticism and heightened awareness that a remembered experience can bestow. Petrov imbues the tale with a romanticism, one might even say a religious one given the lush choral music accompanying it, as the boy daydreams of the cow as nurse and mother - though the harsh realities of life return as the runaway beast is seen on the rail track in front of an advancing train. (Indeed, it could be argued that in terms of impact the story of the cow driven to suicide by the death of her calf is sufficient without the extra dream scenes, though this would deny the viewer the ensuing flight of fancy that is such a feature of the film.) Aleksandr’s trademark technique of drawing in oil on glass creates liquid images that merge into each other, rather darker here than in his later work, suggesting rather than definitively stating what is occurring. One is left to piece together meaning. His technique was praised at the time by Pascal Blais. "It was unbelievable the amount of work there. It was like seeing a Rembrandt come to life." Based on the Soviet writer Andrei Platonov´s story the ten minute film won awards at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival Grand Prix, Baruna (Bulgaria), the Ottawa Animation Festival and the Berlin Film Festival. It was nominated for an Oscar. By way of contrast, showing how great animators flourish in a commercial environment, try this stirring ad for the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador. Aleksandr almost surpasses his work for United Airlines featured here a while back.

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