September 01, 2007

An Animating Genius

Alexander Tatarsky, 1950-2007

One of the great masters of Russian animation died in his sleep on July 22. Alexander Tatarsky, 56, was a teacher for hundreds and an inspiration to the millions who grew up watching his animated films.

His films, which appeared in the perestroika era, were distinguished by their grotesque yet charismatic characters. Chaotic storylines and humorous dialog reflected the absurd atmosphere of survival in the Soviet Union during the 1980s and 1990s. His films are never condescending, trading wisdom in for laughs, preferring instead to offer “inside jokes,” ones the whole country is in on. This took farce to the level of tragicomedy, turning it into a social commentary. For instance, at the end of Last Year’s Snow was Falling, (Padal Proshlogodny Sneg, 1983), which documents the hapless travels of a comical muzhik, sent by his authoritarian wife into the woods for a Christmas tree, the joke ends when the muzhik sighs, pulls out a hidden and unexpected flute and plays a sad melody to the falling snowflakes. That song was played at Tatarsky’s funeral.

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