Screened as part of NZIFF 2005
Yuri Norstein (b. 1941) is universally considered the most remarkable of living Russian animators. Although his body of completed work is less than 80 minutes in length, its impact has been profound. Exquisitely rendered and drawing deeply from the well of folklore and literature, these films are as unmistakeably Russian as the works of Tolstoy or Tarkovsky. Having studied at art school, Norstein initially found employment in a furniture factory before embarking on a two-year course attached to the state animation studio, Soyuzmultfilm, where he took up full employment in 1961. Norstein had little interest in the cartoons being produced there, and his career at the studio was characterised by constant problems with the censors. While at the studio, however, he met his wife and creative partner in many of the films, Francesca Yarbusova.
Fox and Rabbit (1973), the second film to bear his signature, depicts an ever-shifting series of alliances and relationships between a fox, a rabbit and a rooster. Heron and Crane (1974) has been described as Chekhovian in its succession of proposals, rejections and vexations between a crane and the heron he would like to marry. For this film Norstein, Yarbusova and their other regular collaborator, cameraman Alexander Zhokovsky, invented a machine which allowed them to animate on layers of glass. In the tender, exquisite Hedgehog in the Fog (1975) a hedgehog and a bear decide to count the stars. Battle of Kerzhenets uses a variety of ancient frescoes, icons and artworks to depict the Tartar invasion and the epic Russian resistance at the city of Kerzhenets. The beautiful, philosophical Tale of Tales (1979), based on a famous Russian lullaby, is widely considered one of the great wonders of animation. For the last twenty years, Norstein has been working on a film based on Gogol’s The Overcoat. He finally left Soyuzmultfilm in 1986 and has been funding the project from the sale of his drawings, and teaching. — Malcolm Turner