Ten brilliant minutes long, Secha pri Kerzhentse is a great film about war. It was inspired by the legend of the invisible city of Kitezh that Rimsky-Korsakov set to music, some of which accompanies the film, in his 1907 opera. Russians rise up to resist a surprise invasion of Mongols which aims to decimate their faith as well as their peace. Russian Orthodox icons and frescoes from the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries are used—although the background of one of the filmmakers is Jewish. Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966) are among likely influences.
Using stop-motion animation, the short was co-directed by Ivan Ivanov-Vano and Yuriy Norshteyn; Norshteyn also was one of the animators. The color film leans on a fierce use of red and black, the former suggesting both blood and fire, and the latter conveying, horrifically, the blotting out of peace, culture, humanity. Twice, the blackness appears as a form of liquid, like a squid’s discharged ink, rushing across the screen. Indeed, this Expressionistic film is full of furious motion, including that of galloping horses and of the camera itself across images of clash and collision. At the same time, this suiting of formalized art to war’s savagery ironically turns the film’s matter inside out, suggesting both war’s assault on art and, over time, art’s subsequent triumph. In this way, the film helps us to understand art’s countless returns to the subject of war.
Bookending this masterpiece is peace: its disruption; its return.
Grand prizes at Zagreb, Karlovy Vary, Tbilissi.
The next year, Ivanov-Vano would direct the rudimentary though powerful Ave Maria, whose cartoon images, set to the sacred melody we associate with Schubert, depict the madness and mayhem of the U.S.’s slaughtering mission in Vietnam.
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