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Director: Priit Pärn
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Hotel E © Priit PärnIf ‘Breakfast on the Grass‘ was a dark and disturbing portrait of life in the Soviet Union, Priit Pärn’s next film, ‘Hotel E’, took off the mask from the former Soviet state like no other film.

Released shortly after Estonia’s declaration of independence on 20 August 1991, it’s the film on the fall of the iron curtain, seen from an Eastern European perspective. Pärn paints Eastern and Western Europe in the most extreme contrasts, and with different animation styles.

The film starts with two short legends: the legend of the traitor. Told in cut out animation, it tells the story of a young man who looks, when a door opens to a more colorful world…

The second legend is called ‘The legend of the redeemer’. This is set in a rather renaissance sunny landscape, and tells of an outcast who can bridge the missing parts in an otherwise perfect society. This part features virtuoso painted rotoscope animation in the style of Paul Rubens and Frans Hals. Both legends are worked out in detail in the rest of the film, which forms ‘Hotel E’ proper.

‘Hotel E’ (Hotel Europe) starts with a depiction of Western Europe (named ‘The American Dream’) as a lethargic dream room, filled with rich, lazy, and spoiled people, filling their empty, purposeless lives with petty problems, and hardly capable of communicating with each other. This world is filmed in slow, rotoscoped movements in the most colorful pop-art style.

Meanwhile, next door, in the Eastern European room, things are very different indeed. This world is depicted in Pärn’s crude scratchy animation style, and accompanied by nervous, dissonant music. Here it’s dark, it’s filthy, it’s fill of flies, and life there is extremely stressful. The inhabitants all sit around a round table, and their presence is constantly checked by a moving clock hand. The room is frequently illuminated by search lights, and if one fails to stay in place for whatever reason, he’s executed immediately. Paranoia and secrecy reign. Moreover, chances can change randomly, and someone who was in favor first, can be out of luck next time.

One of the inhabitants of this cruel world manages to break free and he’s capable to visit the other world next door. He repeats his visits, despite the fact that he has to leave his concerned wife behind, and despite the fact he’s increasingly seen as a traitor by his fellow citizens. Even worse, he seemingly has little to add to the luxurious world of the West, and his longings there are hardly answered, let alone his problems understood. Only in the end he manages to find his place in this society, when only he turns out to be able to restore the inhabitants’ happiness. At that point we watch the wall between the two rooms collapsing, exposing the rotten world of the East and its eager inhabitants, and we hear one Western woman exclaim ‘o, shit…’.

‘Hotel E’ is Pärn’s most openly political film. It must be regarded as one of his masterpieces, and because of its historical significance, the most important film by the Estonian master. Pärn’s visual language is at its most extreme here, and the film is very difficult to decipher. In fact, much of what is happening is hard to comprehend. But anyone who takes the plunge, is rewarded by a most moving, and impressive film, indeed, the message of which still rings today.

Watch ‘Hotel E’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.totalshortfilms.com/ver/pelicula/138

Director: Priit Pärn
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Breakfast on the Grass © Priit PärnMade directly after ‘Time Out’, ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ is one of Priit Pärn’s most powerful films.

It’s also one of his most difficult, and its message is at times hard to decipher. Pärn doesn’t tell straightforward stories, and much remains unexplained. Most importantly, it’s one of the few films showing insight in Eastern European life under the communist oppression. Its atmosphere is gloomy, its graphic style crude and scratchy, its humor dark, and its surrealism disturbing.

In ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ we follow four people, two men and two women, who struggle in their daily life. The first, Anna, strongly feels she’s an outcast in the society. She’s not really part of the system, and misses out on its benefits, as exemplified by her search for rare apples. The second, Georg, imagines himself a playboy, but reality is harder. In pursuit of a suit, with which he can fulfill his playboy dreams he has to go through a grind of corruption. Everyone wants something rare in exchange for offered service. Berta has lost her face as soon she became a mother. She only regains it when she finds the attention of a man. And finally, Eduard shrinks when he needs a paper signed from a very high official. Luckily he gets help from a female friend…

Also starring in these stories is an anonymous artist, who is constantly followed by a flock of crows or dragged around by two state officials. A clearer statement of oppression is hard to find in any Soviet film.

In the end, the four people succeed in their aim, and together they go to a park, where they form a life tableau of Edouard’s Manet’s painting ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe‘ (1863) which lends its name to the film’s title. This hopeful statement of beauty, freedom and art is as quickly dismantled, however, and the final shot is for the artist, whose arm is smacked by a steam roller…

Like few other films ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ shows what life is like in an oppressed state, where food is scarce, where bureaucracy and corruption run freely, and where the role you play is more important than your personal preferences. Even though the Glasnost was in full flight in 1987, it’s a wonder such a dark accusation was possible in the Soviet Union, of which Estonia was then still part.

Watch ‘Breakfast on the Grass’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Grigori Lomidze
Release Date: 1947
Rating: ★★★
Review:

To You, Moscow © Soyuzmultfilm‘To You, Moscow’ is a long and slow Soviet propaganda film celebrating Moscow’s 800th birthday by depicting its turbulent history.

During the film we watch Moscow’s settlement, the victory of Ivan III over the Tartars (15th century), the revolt against Polish occupation (17th century), the defeat of Napoleon’s army in 1812, the 1905 revolution, the 1917 socialist revolution (‘led by Lenin and Stalin’) and the 1941 defeat of the fascist army to the present day.

The socialist revolution section leads to live-action footage of Moscow, a happy child, flowers, some buildings and street scenes and statues of Lenin and Stalin. The last section, the celebration, shows photographs of heroic inhabitants of the Soviet Union, and not only glorifies Moscow as “our youth, our glory”, “our dear mother” and “our birthday girl”, but also as a “glory to Stalin”.

The different sections are bridged by letters and postcards to comrade Stalin. The sections themselves focus on strives and battles, and are accompanied by alternately realistic and symbolic images. For example, the 1917 revolution is depicted by the czarist double-headed eagle struggling and falling to pieces, while the most impressive part may be that of 1812, with its realistic images of fire.

It may be clear that this film is propaganda at its worst. The film is saved from becoming totally unwatchable by the beautiful animation, the stark images, and the lively patriotic music.

Watch ‘To You, Moscow’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘To You, Moscow’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vladimir Tarasov
Release Date: 1977
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Forward March Time © Soyuzmultfilm‘Forward March Time!’ is a bold setting of a poem by soviet futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1892-1930).

The film illustrates the meandering poem with associative images of the 1905 revolution, the 1917 revolution, World War II and even a futuristic battle in space.

Using a combination of typical seventies designs (besides communist paintings) and rock music (besides an excerpt from Mahler’s fifth symphony), the film is both a markedly modern and interesting piece of soviet propaganda, if a bit too long. It shows Tarasov’s unique style, which he explored further in the much more lighthearted short ‘Contact‘.

Watch ‘Forward March, Time!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Forward March, Time!’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Directors: Valentina Brumberg, Zinaida Brumberg, Aleksandr Ivanov, Olga Khodataeva and Ivan Ivanov-Vano
Release Date: 1941
Rating: ★★★
Review:

4 Newsreels © SoyuzmultfilmThe Soviet propaganda film ‘4 Newsreels’ consists of four so-called ‘political posters’, which are as blatant as propaganda can get.

The first, ‘What Hitler wants’, shows us an extremely ugly and vicious caricature of Hitler marching towards the Soviet Union until he is pierced by the Soviet bayonet.

In the second, ‘Beat the fascist pirates’, sea serpent-like German submarines are defeated by the Soviet fleet.

The third, ‘Strike the Enemy on the front and at home’, is typical for the paranoid society Stalinist Russia was, warning against treacherous fascist spies, foreign agents and saboteurs: “Be vigilant! Remember, our enemy is cunning!”.

The fourth, ‘A mighty handshake’, tells us about the union between England and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, showing two mighty giant soldiers shaking hands and crushing a tiny rat-like Hitler in doing so.

Obviously, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union left no room for subtleties.

‘4 Newsreels’ was directed by five veterans of animated Soviet propaganda. All had made animated films since the 1920s. Of the five, Ivan Ivanov-Vano (1900-1987) would become the most successful, directing animated films up to the 1970s. Luckily, he and Olga Khodataeva would be able to show a gentler side in numerous animated fairy tale films for children.

Watch ‘4 Newsreels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘4 Newsreels’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin
Release Date: 1967
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Prophets and Lessons © Soyuzmultfilm‘Prophets and Lessons’ is a Soviet propaganda film. It tells us how every time the Western world predicted the Soviet Union to fail, but that these predictions never came true.

Its chapters are all conceived in the same order: first we see animated capitalist predict something, then we see a giant Soviet blacksmith strike his mighty hammer and finally we see live action footage of the Soviet Union’s successes.

The separate chapters are the Soviet revolution, the civil war, the five year plans, the Second World War, the reconstruction after the war and the Soviet space program. The action is silent, and the imagery rather outdated (more like that of the 1920s than of the 1960s).

‘Prophets and Lessons’  is one of the most obviously propagandistic animation films ever made in the Soviet Union. Its overtly propagandistic message, its repetitive character, and its outdated symbolism make it rather tiresome to watch.

Surprisingly, two years later, the director of this humorless film, Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin, would launch a successful series of comic cartoons, called ‘Ну, Погоди!’ (‘Just Wait!’), featuring a very cartoony wolf.

Watch ‘Prophets and Lessons’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Prophets and Lessons’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

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