Retrospective of animation director Vladimir Tarasov at the 13th Zerkalo Andrey Tarkovsky International Film Festival
There is a blank spot on the map of Russian animation: an area largely unknown to contemporary audience. It's hard to believe that it belongs to a most popular genre: science fiction. Director Vladimir Tarasov has for decades explored space by means of animation… Contact with music by Nino Rota is arguably the only film by Tarasov known to general public. And his filmography is extensive, comprising works in different genres. Science fiction is a recurrent theme. "My heart's impartial to it," the director confesses.
Why science fiction? In times of a strict ideological control and censorship this sphere was a way of escaping. Filmmakers could afford liberties that elsewhere were unheard of. Such as semi-legal jazz tunes, quotes from George Dunning's Yellow Submarine or the kind of protagonist seen in Contact – Beatle-style in the parlance of the time. Everyone in Russia has seen The Mystery of the Third Planet: the space adventure of Alisa Seleznyova and good-hearted monster Gromozeka, brought to screen by director Roman Kachanov and artist Natalia Orlova. For millions of Soviet people sci-fi was a way to expand the limits of a planned and controlled life, a breath of fresh air.
It has to be said that, for all his metaphors and artistic license, Tarasov aims for precision. His first science fiction short Time Mirror (1976) was written by Vasily Livanov and Colonel Anatoly Korobkov, an aviation officer familiar with space developments. It was Korobkov's suggestion to see the past with the aid of astrophysics. Tarasov then met with talented artist Nikolai Koshkin. The large orbital "time mirror" that they made up receives images from planets that are hundreds and thousands light years away and is able to reflect distant past.
Science fiction world slowly pulls the director himself through the looking glass.
Even when Tarasov turns to Mayakovsky's poetry to make Time Onwards! (1977), he employs science fiction to create an image of a country torn by hunger and wars – a country that through the horrors of revolution and civil war climbs up into space. Soon enough a patrol starship named Vladimir Mayakovsky detects a hideout of greed and consumerism and destroys it.
Contact is Tarasov's cult film, an emotional and musical fantasy journey. During a plein-air the Painter meets an alien creature of some kind, which uses mimicry to explore the Earth, transforming into everything it sees: a butterfly, a bird, Painter's boot which he lost in fright. Finally the alien transforms into Painter himself, humming his favorite tune (a theme from Godfather). "The right motif" makes sure that the two civilization will understand each other. Art as the best kind of communicator between two sensible beings is one important idea, another one is hidden in the story's wrinkles: if you want to understand someone and love someone who's not yourself, you need to become that someone even if for a second. Forget about yourself!
The Return, written by Boris Ryakhovsky (1980), was made with Kubrick's 2001 in mind. Tarasov and Koshkin's fantasy drama is a combination of dramatism and psychedelia rarely found in Soviet animation of the time. A spaceship's pilot falls into an artificial sleep and can't wake up. The solution is a "total recall", a flight over his own home. This naive story gives an opportunity to create a dreamlike, surrealist world in which details of reality are inscribed. Various means of expression lead the film into the indescribable, the layers of the subconscious. Tarasov and Koshkin's singular artistic style is a combination of various techniques, including cut-outs, total animation, combination of drawings and photo collage.
Anniversary (1983), released for the centennial of animation, is an homage to the early Soviet masters. A delegation of Soviet animators is traveling to an interplanetary congress on the occasion of the first cartoon's millennial anniversary. Patriarch Ivan Ivanov-Vano leads the group. The starship makes an emergency landing on a grim planet inhabited by creatures akin to Contact's alien: they are also able to change their appearance according to what they see. Aggressive aliens take the Terrans prisoners. But the inspired and warm Terran films that they find aboard the ship placate their ferocity – make them human(e), so to speak.
Contract (1985) is based on Robert Silverberg's short story. The screenwriter Viktor Slavkin changed the story somewhat, however. The filmmakers decided to show a conflict between Terran businessmen with alien ones. The humane is victorious, and not the commercial as in the source story. Capitalist is willing to leave a space explorer for certain death for dollars. But salesman robot QBF-41 saves the hero. In the ending, aliens from different galaxies, left behind on an uninhabited planet, are bound to death from cold. But Colonist connects an emergency power station to the deactivated robot, and new friends warm themselves up on the surface of the strange snowy planet.
The Path (1988), based on Kir Bulychev's novella, is arguably Tarasov's best film. A dark fantasy, a disaster film. Artist and mathematician Anatoly Fomenko, the author of the notorious "New Chronology", was among the film's creators. That theory holds that historical timeline as we know it is completely wrong and needs to be reexamined. A spaceship is wrecked on an unknown planet. The passengers are disconnected from Earth and are trying to get back to the ship to send an SOS. The film is about importance of being connected to the history of one's family, Earth and one's own childhood. "Either we are a part of humanity and preserve its knowledge or we are savages with no future," says the director. Among the film's most important ideas: only children can save humanity. The film features outstanding graphics with surrealist elements – snow on the strange planet, purple and beige blossoms. Sasha Cherny's poetry, Alexander Gradsky's music. Voice cast includes Alexander Kaidanovsky, one of Tarkovsky's favorite actors. There are also cultural references to early 20th century's art and the sound collage in the ending, featuring voices of the same era's performers (including Alexander Vertinsky). Speaking of Tarasov's connection to Tarkovsky's cinema, both explore apocalyptic ideas and meditate on the universe's destiny, finality of mankind that have forgotten about humane values; on consumerism's triumph over spirituality, on a single human soul's destiny.
Andrey Tarkovsky Film Festival brings us back to Vladimir Tarasov's cinema. The director will visit the festival to meet the audiences.