Though not widely known in the UK, Russian director Andrey Khrzhanovskiy has been making films since the 60s. An attendee of The Soviet State Film School, his first animation There Once Was Kozyavin tells the story of a civil servant whose mundane job involves passing papers from the hand of one man to a pile behind. One day he is sent on a wild goose chase in search of a man to whom he must deliver a note. Amazingly relevant even in modern Britain, it satirises political bureaucracy with the kind of delightful surrealism familiar from Python-era Terry Gilliam.
Room And A Half, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy's latest film, shows the same ridicule of political absurdity that mixes live action with his own enchantingly surrealist animation. The film embellishes the life story of Russian born Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky, told through his own eyes as he returns to Russia following a number of decades in exile. As he reminisces over his childhood, his near starvation during World War II and the return home of his father - a photographer for the Soviet Navy - the film takes on the faded colour of old retouched photographs.
Khrzhanovskiy's surreal use of animation displays an incredible wit that opens a door into the poet’s bubbling mind. A cat cycling a flying bike past a statue of Lenin is certainly one of the highlights. The use of animals plays a key part for fitting the characters. A pair of crows represent his parents whilst various cats follow Joseph round mimicking his actions, and a carving of a rabbit rowing a boat watches his various attempts to seduce young ladies.
In his college days Joseph, a cocky young Lothario, becomes politically active which leads to his internal exile on a farm, then to his exile from Russia. The court scene surrounding his trial is comically similar to the court scene in Idiocracy, with rhetoric and blatant name-calling forming the basis of the case against him. Again being shadowed by cats whilst in exile - a symbol you're led to make up your own mind about - Joseph's letter home in which he requests alcohol is mimicked by a cat writing to request tinned fish.
From the time Brodsky is active as a poet, abstracts from original recordings of him reading his work are played over the film. Though the English subtitles capture the thoughts of a great mind, the rhythm and music of the Russian verse are remarkable and well worth full attention.