Sunday Classic Animation
Heron and Crane was Yuri Norstein's third feature film. Not surprisingly, given the title, it is about the two birds in question and yet it is as much about the playful and contradictory nature of courtship and relationships between the sexes as any film featuring real humans. A lanky crane takes a shine to a short, long-nosed heron. He seems to her a rather odd fellow whose clothes are too short - "What a clumsy fellow he is." But a shine is a shine, hope springs eternal and Crane asks her to marry him though he is put out indeed with her summary dismissal of his proposal - "you beanpole". The perspective changes from Crane to Heron and we are made aware that the short heron has made a dreadful mistake. The crane may be on the tall side but he's available and life with a crane is preferable to life alone. In the meantime, reparations are in order as her bird has taken umbrage; her change of heart is, temporarily, rejected too. And on it goes. One preens him/herself and, momentarily, feels too full of their own self-importance thus missing life's opportunities. Yuri's Tale of Tales (1979) has rightly obtained a place at the centre of world animation, along with Hedgehog in the Fog, one of my animations of the year in December. Heron and Crane has the same innocent appeal as that latter movie. The animation is marvellously achieved as he follows her, feigning indifference when she turns to look, or taps on the wall as he ponders whether or not to propose, or the pair engage in gentle play tipping Heron's bonnet. Yuri's use of cut-outs and his development of multiplane animation - an innovation using panels of glass to give a sense of depth - have won many admirers the world over. I love the richly persuasive voice of the narrator, Enokenti Smoktinovsky and the music of Mikhail Meyerovich together with the delightful opening song. The backdrop is delicate, almost Japanese in style in its depiction of an aristocrat's Italianate garden in gentle decline that forms the setting for the animated folk tale. When the bird looks up to the heavens and we see other birds migrating for the winter shortly followed by Heron and Crane enduring the wintry elements there is a wistfulness that is most engaging and brings to the fore their need for each other.
Biography: Yuri Norstein was born in 1941 in the village of Andreevka of Penza Region, where his parents had been evacuated. He grew up in Moscow. In 1961, after taking a two-year long course at art school, Norstein eventually embarked on a career attached to the state animation studio, Soyuzmultfilm. He worked as an animator with Ivan Ivanov-Vano. He has worked for many years with his wife Francheska Yarbusova and cameraman Alexander Zhukovsky. Surprisingly his actual output has been comparatively small for such a legend. But his work is enchanting.