Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Yuri Norstein "The Fox and the Hare"

The Fox and the Hare (1973) was Yuri Norstein's first film as a director purely in his own right. In the same vein as several other of his classics - they are all classics - it is based on a Russian folk tale. A fox lives in a house of ice and a hare a house of wood. When the ice thaws the fox seizes the house from the poor hare. The best endeavours of grey wolf, bear and ox fail to evict the trespasser. When all hope has faded and hare is looking towards an outside life, along comes the cockerel to the rescue. In the folk tale on which it is based the cockerel cuts off the head of the fox with a scythe. No such butchery in the warm tale spun by a master of his craft. Norstein bewitches. The fox proud of his house of ice, the busy hare attending to his chores, the wolf sharpening up his knife and fork, the bear all bluster, the fighting cockerel gulping away at his tobacco pipe prior to the next round of fisticuffs. The artwork is exquisite, a combination of the drawings of his wife Francesca Yarbusova and Norstein's distinctive use of cutouts of which I have written here before. The animation is often framed by a patterned border, as if a magic carpet were enacting the drama, or perhaps a sketched drawing with a close-up of the characters. There are moments when the little house, that seemingly accommodates big animals and battles, is a cuckoo clock full of life. The production team is so accomplished, the music of Mikhail Meerovich and voice of Viktor Khokhryakov conveying warmth and expression both. Entering the world of Norstein is to enter a more decent place where the wolf will never eat the hare and the tiny cockerel vanquishes the mighty fox. And all in an an understated way occasioning a knowing smile from adults who, despite the quality of fable, are the audience. Russian animation at its very best. The second DVD purchased for my birthday: The Complete Works of Yuri Norstein. For those who are unable to wait: Fox and the Hare 1 and The Fox and the Hare 2.

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