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  • In most people's head the animation film is connected to Disney movies or to Japanese manga animation films, which are very hip nowadays. But everyone seems to overlook Russian animators. The most influential of them is Yuri Norstein, whose timeless masterpiece was awarded at the festival of animation films in Los Angeles in 1984 and at many other film festivals throughout the world. But why is this short half-an-hour movie so beautiful?

    Firstly, because Norstein has a matchless visual style. I expected something special after I've read about the film and before I saw it but what I got is something extraordinary: breathtaking pictures, fantastically clever use of mixed media, fine classical music. Secondly, because of the complex, symbol-ridden story, which is rooted in the Russian mythology. The story is about childhood innocence, the loss of the loved ones and the duty of the artist. It's very European, very Eastern-European and because I'm from Hungary and our past is very similar, this animation film is much closer to me than the American or Japanese ones.
  • I love "Triplets of Bellville" and I admire "Spirited Away" but "Skazka skazok (Tale of Tales)" (1979) is the pinnacle of the Medium for me. What Norstein had achieved in his 30 minutes long animated film that was made over 30 years ago is akin to what Andrei Tarkovski did in in his Zerkalo (Mirror) - captured time and memory of one child and the whole generation and projected them in the images and sounds that stay with you forever.

    His incredible images accompanied by the music of Mozart, Bach, and the famous tango "The Wayworn Sun" - the same one Nikita Mikhalkov used in his film "Burnt by the Sun" - bring to life forever gone but always alive in one's heart happiness, innocence, and memory of the childhood that are indelible from the history of the country and the Artist's search for beauty and meaning.

    The images or the war are absolutely heartbreaking. There are no combats on the screen but the scenes with the dancing couples, the men going to the war, and the notifications of death ("pochoronki") flying like birds of death to waiting in hope women: mothers, wives, and sisters are unforgettable.

    Norstein is known for being a perfectionist - his resume includes only six films - combined, they last less than 80 minutes. Each of the minutes is perfection itself. Norstein puts a piece of his heart in every single frame of his small gems. He is the Artist and the Humanist - one of the best directors ever, and not only in Animation.
  • The human memory does not operate in a straightforward, linear manner. We do not remember events in neat chronological order, nor do we always immediately understand the meaning behind what we are seeing. Our memories are a jumble of seemingly-random but ultimately connected images, sporadically jumping between remembered places and moments, associations triggered by the repeated appearance of deceptively mundane but eerily familiar objects. There is much to be learned from exploring the unfathomable depths of the mind, and Russian animator Yuriy Norshteyn's 'Tale of Tales' strives to do exactly that.

    In 1984, in an event held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Olympics, the Animation Olympiad jury attempted to recognise the single greatest animated film of all time. Despite a wealth of worthy candidates, one film was ultimately crowned with the grand title: that film, of course, was 'Tale of Tales.' Two decades later, at the 2002 Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films, the same film was honoured with the same prestigious title, confirming beyond doubt that time has done nothing to dampen its beauty. Norshteyn's masterpiece is a triumph of stunning animation, ambient sound and a stirring classical score. Despite being held in such high regard by so many animation experts, I was surprised to discover how rare and under-seen this film actually is. Only via the internet was I able to watch it, and my hearing about it in the first place can be put down to blind luck. Needless to say, I am infinitely grateful that I did stumble upon the film one day.

    'Tales of Tales' is comprised of a number of related sequences, which are interspersed within each other. The film uses several recurring characters, most notably the poet, the little girl playing jump-rope with the disheartened bull, the young boy feeding apples to the crows, the dancers and the soldiers, the suckling baby and, of course, the little grey wolf (voiced by Aleksandr Kalyagin). The meanings behind the film's poignant images are somewhat beyond words, and, even if you have absolutely no desire to try and decipher the rich symbolism, you can still simply sit back and take in the awesome beauty. The sequences involving the dancers are most certainly an allegory for Russia's involvement in World War Two. The vanishing male dance partners, replaced by hooded Grim Reapers who retreat solemnly into the distance, highlight the enormous human losses the Soviet Union suffered on the Eastern Front.

    The original title of the short, 'The Little Grey Wolf Will Come,' was derived from a traditional Russian lullaby, which is featured in the film in both instrumental and vocal form: "Baby, baby, rock-a-bye / On the edge you mustn't lie / Or the little grey wolf will come / And will nip you on the tum / Tug you off into the wood / Underneath the willow-root." This title, however, was ultimately rejected by the Soviet censors, and Norshteyn was forced to choose another one. He eventually decided upon 'Tale of Tales,' the title of a poem by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, of which the director had been a fan since 1962: "We stand above the water - sun, cat, plane tree (platanus tree), me / and our destiny. / The water is cool, / The plane tree is tall, / The sun is shining, / The cat is dozing, / I write verses. / Thank God, we live!" The film employs an original music score by Mikhail Meyerovich, supplementing his contributions with the classic works of Bach, Mozart and the World War Two era tango, 'Weary Sun,' written by Jerzy Petersburski.

    Curiously, 'Tale of Tales' – completed in 1979 – is the most recent film directed by Yuriy Norshteyn. This, however, does not mean that he has not been working hard. Ever since 1981, the director has dedicated most of his time to producing 'Shinel / The Overcoat,' his 60-minute labour of love, adapted from Nikolai Gogol's short story of the same name. Throughout a production period plagued with interruptions and financial difficulties, Norshteyn's ardent perfectionism has earned him the nickname, "The Golden Snail." A release date for 'The Overcoat' is currently uncertain, but, if the magnificent 'Tale of Tales' is anything to go by, we are all in for a treat!
  • kamerad18 March 2002
    I must discuss the Russian Yuri Norstein's stunning "Tale of Tales". Like the films of another great Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, this film is about memory and nostalgia. The uses of various techniques of animation, primarily cutouts, not only let us see Norstein's memories, but also help illustrate their dream-like qualities. There are events in this film that, taken literally, could not have happened. However Norstein represents these memories metaphorically, thereby making their emotional impact greater than were he to simply illustrate his memories in a straight forward narrative.

    There are a couple of moments that reflect the above-mentioned statement that I feel I must include in this entry. I loved the scene where the little boy is standing in the snow eating an apple , looking up at some crows on a tree branch. The boy then appears on the branch, buddies up with the crows and shares his apple with them. This is a great, moving, but non-sentimental image that lets us feel the child's desire for friendship. Just after that, his father, whose Napoleon hat identifies him as a tyrant, yanks him out of his daydream. The little boy at first struggles, but then a little Napoleon hat appears on his head and he marches in file behind his dad. This scene reminded me of the Disney WWII era short "Education for Death", in that it also is about childhood innocence being destroyed by adults conditioning their behavior. But where "Education." was a didactic propaganda tool, "Tale of Tales" simply shows how sad and unfortunate it is for adults to do that to children, and illustrates it in such a poetic way.
  • Grand Prize winner at the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films Russian director Yuri Norstein's Tale of Tales (alternately titled The Little Grey Wolf Will Come) was named by the 1984 Animation Olympiad jury at the L.A. Olympics as the greatest animated film of all time. Written by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and Norstein, like Tarkovsky's Zerkalo (The Mirror), it consists of fleeting images, snippets of memory from the director's life. According to Norstein, the film was inspired by the poem Tale of Tales by Nazim Hikmet:

    "We stand above the water - sun, cat, plane tree, me and our destiny. The water is cool, The plane tree is tall, The sun is shining, The cat is dozing, I write verses. Thank God, we live!"

    The film opens with a grey wolf singing a Russian lullaby to a baby in a cradle:

    "Baby baby rock-a-bye On the edge you mustn't lie Or the little grey wolf will come And will nip you on the tum Tug you off into the wood Underneath the willow-root."

    Backed by an original score by Mikhail Meerovich and the music of Bach and Mozart, images roll by, some repeated during the film, without any apparent connection: a sad eyed grey wolf nurturing a little baby, a boy eating a green apple, then feeding it to the crows, a passive bull skipping rope with a small girl, men and women's dancing interrupted by soldiers, a woman sitting on a bench with her drunk husband, a man and his son wearing Napoleon hats ostensibly going off to war, women mourning the death of loved ones in the war, apples falling in the snow, among others. Norstein describes the film as being "about simple concepts that give you the strength to live."

    Claire Kitson, former Commissioning Editor of Animation for the UK's Channel 4, in her book about the film: Yuri Norstein and Tale of Tales – An Animator's Journey by Clare Kitson. London, U.K., & Bloomington, IN: John Libbey & Indiana University Press, 2005), says that the images are not metaphors but actual events in the director's life. For instance, the woman sitting in a bench with a drunk husband comes from a couple casually spotted by co-writer Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, the apple from a happy and tasty experience of Norstein eating an apple while walking in the street during the winter, and the old house from the actual house that he dwelled in during his childhood.

    But she warns that "the film is about memory and ...is also constructed like a memory" and adds: "this is achieved by the construction of a set of parallel worlds: the old house with, nearby, an old streetlight and the setting for wartime scenes; the poet's world, where a fisherman's family also lives and a bull and a walker come to visit; the snowbound winter world of the boy and the crows; and the forest next to a highway, where the Little Wolf makes his home under the brittle willow bush. In short, we must appreciate bull, poet, wolf, house, snow and so on not like metaphors of something else, but like bricks in a palace, notes in a symphony."

    Selecting it as one of the fifteen greatest "seeking" films of all time, directors Gregory and Maria Pears described it on their website www.cinemaseekers.com as follows: "Through its philosophical depths, its visionary language and its use of sound and music, it raises animation to the level of the very best art cinema. Norstein is a consummate artist, who insists on painting every frame himself. The result is the totally unique evocation of his spiritual world that could only have been rendered through animation - no other cinematic form would have sufficed."

    Enigmatic, magically beautiful, and very moving, Tale of Tales is a work of art that you cannot figure out but can only experience just by letting it roll over you like a warm breeze.

    The 27-minute film is available on You Tube with English subtitles.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_q3WoYawNI
  • Not much to add really to what's already been said before, and so well too. Tale of Tales is one of the finest Soviet animations ever made alongside Hedgehog in the Fog, and one of the most powerful and poignant of the entire animation medium too. The visuals are really striking, atmospherically coloured and impeccably detailed, several of the images are enough to stay with you forever and the symbolic ones are really quite meaningful. Tale of Tales is scored wonderfully too, all of it fits with the visuals like strawberries and cream whether ethereally beautiful in the retrospective moments or hauntingly rousing in the war/battle images. The story and atmosphere are rendered adeptly, the story is structured into three sections, each of them is firmly focused and full of emotional impact and they follow and overlap one another with no signs of jarring or clumsiness. The retrospective moments are nostalgic and poignant, the middle section is just gut-wrenching and the idealism of the final section shows some hope, contrasting beautifully with what's been seen before. Tale of Tales is well-paced, it allows the visuals to breathe and resonate nor does it descend into tedium, and the powerful, affecting and nostalgic atmosphere is incredibly well-done. To conclude, a fine example of a Soviet animation masterpiece and one of the finest examples too. 10/10 Bethany Cox
  • Using a mix of puppet, cutout, and cell animation, Yuri Norstein made in Tale of Tales a heartbreaking, tenderly poetic meditation on Russian history as well as one of the most stunningly beautiful animated films ever. Very hard to get, but don't miss a chance to see this film.
  • Great film. The scene of child with birds remind me the almost same scenes form Andrei Tarkovsky's "the Mirror". I see this film on DVD(the collection of Russian Animation films), the effect is marvelous! The total film like a dream, sometimes make you feel bitter, sometimes smile with tears. I like the prelude and fuge by Bach in this film, and the tango music is also used in Nikita Mikhalkov's film " Burnt by the Sun". The Great film(not only the animation film) I have ever seen.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Declared the "best animated film of all time" in 1984 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the "greatest animated film of all time" at the 2002 Zagreb Festival, and "the second best animated film of all time" at the 2003 Laputah Animation Festival, Yuriy Norshteyn's "Tale of Tales" nevertheless, like most of the director's work, remains virtually unknown outside of Russia. Norshteyn's an "animator's animator", cherished mostly by those who share his profession.

    "Tale of tales" revolves around a little grey wolf. The character's based on the wolf in "The Little Grey Wolf Will Come", a popular Russian lullaby. There the wolf was a figure of mischief who kidnaps babies. Here he is presented warmly (and even protects babies). Hugely symbolic, the film watches as the wolf bounces from one odd situation to the next, scenes arranged like a series of hazy dreams, memories or half-recollections, in which sequences seem to trigger successive memory sequences. In this regard the film heavily resembles Tarkovsky's "The Mirror". Its plot contains three overlapping sections, one of which focuses on memories, the other upon the "contemporary" world, and the other upon a happy, idealised dream world. The film shifts fluidly between these three worlds, and presents a symbolic portrait of Russia, spanning from the 19th century, through to the Civil Wars of the 1920s, to the post war period of Norshteyn's youth and finally to the 1970s.

    Most of what the film depicts will fly over the heads of those unfamiliar with Russian history. One must remember that Stalinist socialist realism severely restricted the space in which creative intellectuals could operate. Symbolism, with its emphasis on the metaphysical, the irrational and the mystical, was then seized upon by many Russian artists, who sought to free themselves from socialist realism's straightforward, pragmatic purpose of disseminating the Communist message. For this reason the state sought to ban even showings of "Tale of Tales", but public protests and strategic editing by Norshteyn prevented this from happening. Still, much of the film deals with national inferiority complexes, the effects of social and technological changes and the various freedoms which Russia, still ruled by autocracy, lacked. While the West was typically painted, in Russia, as an ageing and degenerate place, mired in materialism and an overdeveloped sense of rationalism unanchored to any higher truth, Norshteyn's film, while not celebrating the West, questions whether Russia is destined to deliver itself or even others from various debilitations. The film's final point is fairly simple: the belief that eternal happiness is not found in state ideology but in family life, and that fulfilment comes from within and not from the involvement in the building of communal societies. In the way he celebrates the everyday, the mundane, promotes an individualistic approach to locating happiness, Norshteyn is openly defiant of the collectivist spirit of socialist realism. As the Soviet Union crumbled, Norshteyn would later question the position he takes in this film.

    Of course unless one reads the film's barrage of very abstract images - old wooden chairs, rejected sewing machines, Napoleon hats on adults and kids (tyranny seeding the future), crumbling communal apartment buildings, lines of cars speeding away from old Russia and into new Russia, flaming apartments etc – this message flies over the heads of most who see the film. What one chiefly appreciates is therefore the film's unusual mood, with its primitive shapes and shadows, its Bunraku doll-theatre visuals, its rough-hewn style, its hand-made charm, its aura of ink, oils and card, its unique lighting and "depth effects" and its powerful, mysterious and creepy quality. You've never seen anything quite like this, thanks largely to a fairly unique process used by Norshteyn. Unlike most animators, he utilises a technique in which cards are lit with practical lights and in which different segments of each animated "cell" are "stuck" to different, independently moving planes of glass. This lends his films a fairly sophisticated sense of three dimensional depth, and of flickering, tangible light, both of which bely Norshteyn's primitive shapes.

    9/10 – Worth two viewings.
  • This would be the ultimate 3D film experience. I wanted to see this again as preparation for Tarkovsky's "Nostalghia" (1983), which I've long regarded as one of the most amazing films ever made. This, I think, exhibits the same kind of existential meta-melancholy that's somehow deeply rooted in the fabric of the creative process depicted by many of the Russian artists; then, as noted, this has an amazingly perceptive visual eye making it more than a fitting prelude.

    It's like entering an infant's dream. Everything is new, nothing is named. What we see is emotion. Color as emotion, motion as emotion, character as emotion. The layered images are stunning, and the eye moves restlessly, zooming in and out on objects and is at times perplexingly active as if it didn't know where it was going, and at times hesitantly passive.

    Dreams of a dreamed up being, the maroon light swallowing the thin silhouette-like figures. The minotaur-like figure jumping rope. The wolf, alone in the forest at the fire, taken in by the mysterious light (a sure influence on Polanski and his The Ninth Gate [1999]). This must've been a great influence on Chomet, as well.

    This is on par with and in my estimation exceeds "L'Homme qui plantait as arbres" (1988), and a very worthy companion for the best of the Quay Brothers as short animation that reshapes how we see and think, and most importantly, how we dream.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is one of the most beautiful and fascinating shorts ever made, I loved the animation and the music of this. After I saw "Hedgehog in the Fog" I became very interested in the Russian animation, but specially in the shorts of Yuriy Norshteyn.

    This short is considered to be one of the best animations ever made, and I can clearly see why: Every single frame of this short are not only beautiful to look at, but also have a deep, emotional meaning. At first it seems like something confusing or disjointed (However it is still a absolute pleasure to watch) but after multiple viewings the intentions of the animators seem clearer. I am not sure if this is the best animation ever made, All I know is that I loved this.
  • subooot22 April 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    Poetry in animation, so I would call this film, each image is emotion, images are repeated, emotions are repeated, a curse and a blessing. Music, shadows, movements, everything points to the state of the human soul. The wolf is the witness, the spirit of nature in us, it becomes Dante traveling through hell or paradise, shattered moments of human souls. Participating curiosity in each of our state, we are the wolf, life grows, we are the wolf, lives are destroyed. The moments of happiness, the elusive happiness, a reality that stitching dreams, sadness, soul leaking through every scene, quietly and toxic. The wolf is the narrator, he survives, he is witness in stories of our souls, in our lost mirror, by which we look at our misted life.

    Excellent film, my first meeting with Yuriy Norshteyn work. And what a movie. I'm really deeply touched by this masterpiece.
  • In 1984, the Animation Olympiad named this as "the most beautiful animated film ever made". Well, that's a mighty tall order to live up to and so I expected a much prettier film than I actually saw. Now this isn't to say the film is ugly, but only portions of the film are pretty. The backgrounds and effects are indeed lovely, but the characters all too often are cutouts that move through stop-motion (almost like those of Terry Gilliam) and they just have a cheap quality about them. The contrast between these moving characters and the rest of the film is pretty noticeable--especially the rather crudely drawn wolf. Plus, while the film is in some ways quite pretty, it's not especially fun to watch or exciting. I really think some of the Russian animated shorts by Aleksandr Petrov that were done after SKAZKA SKAZOK were far more beautiful and impressive--having a narrative that is much more interesting to all ages. SKAZKA SKAZOK, instead, has very limited commercial appeal--being more for the artsy crowd than the average person. Overall, rather pretty but that's about all. Had I not heard all the hype, perhaps I would have been more impressed.
  • Perhaps the greatest animated film of all time, Tale Of Tales remains an artwork of extraordinary substance. The film showed that animation can be art, but most importantly serious art. Its unusual but unforgettable animation perfectly expresses the passing of time. All the scenes in the film are imaginative. Some are just gorgeous, like the one with the snow falling down. Most importantly Yuriy Norshteyn's art is about the fundamentals of light, literally drawing the subject out of darkness and portraying it with the luminosity of a Rembrandt portrait and the simple poignancy of a children's book illustration. To put it simply, Norshteyn uses animation to fully express and represent the essence of cinema itself. The film runs for 26 minutes, but it has a lot more to say than many films that run for two hours. The human experiences represented here are universal. Tale Of Tales receives my highest recommendation.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    All animation revels in the smallest movements, this one revels in the smallest moments. About as narrative as you could call the average early Bunuel, this movie is an obvious inspiration of the surrealistic cut-outs of Terry Gilliam and even hints towards the escapist fantasy of Where the Wild Things Are. As for what's going on here itself, well, a lot and not so much.

    The scenes are basically interlaced by a small story of a wolf getting by, his accidental abduction of a child, and his eagerness to live a human life. Meanwhile a sort of war narrative takes place where dancing women lose their partners to a train heading off to war, replaced by a newspaper/mailer detailing fragments of the soldiers' deaths. Classical music and jazz are mixed as a family sits on the seaside and picnics. Furthermore, a young boy eats an apple and shares it with some crows, though his drunken father drag him away. A real mix of animation styles all fits into the animation's own personal style, so at least there's continuity there.

    Unfortunately I can't make a whole lot more out of it, except in the ways in which it lives in Soviet memory and the grunginess of winter and war. Still, it's fascinating to watch.

    --PolarisDiB
  • Seems that my comment is the first one with some negative words. Yes, I dislike this animation film. It's long, it's dark, and it's monotonous. This film doesn't make me experience any strong emotions but just makes me drowsy. If I had to name the best animation film ever, I would pick up "Hadashi no Gen" (1983). That one really gave me unforgettable emotions. As to this black-and-white sequence, even though it does have genuinely artistic sketches, it is a kind of underground animation for artists themselves. It retells the history of the XX century of our country before and after the "VOV". I find the representation of the happenings too unimpressive and common. In general the artwork is not beautiful. The classical music can be listened without these crude images.

    If you think that I'm absolutely unprepared for this kind of "rough" animation, it's not true. One of my favourite cartoons is about Alisa, which is also very "unpolished".

    The best cartoon by Mr Yuriy Norshteyn is "Yozhik v tumane" (1975), in my humble opinion. That one is simple and excellent while this one is complex, awkward, and unpleasant. I also find the name of this cartoon quite misleading. It is really a bold title, which is not backed up by anything truly impressive. And I don't want to come back to this animation film again – re-watching it is an artistic torture to me.

    When I have more time, I shall add a few more lines here.

    But I do respect the unique structure of the film and it does have a couple of cute sequences - therefore I give it a 5 out of 10, which is not a bad mark after all. Thanks for attention.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I have to say I am pretty shocked to see this half-hour animated short film by director and writer Yuriy Norshteyn receive such favorable reviews and rating. I guess this is mostly because of the film's style. Everything about is is so Soviet from start to finish: the animation, the music and probably also the story. Still I have to say I did not find it memorable at all. It looks much older than it actually is (35 years old) and yes, in this case, it is a negative aspect. The only positive thing about it is that there is no spoken dialog in there, so people from all over the world can enjoy it without subtitles, even if they do not speak Russian. But I don't think they want to. This film is really only for a very small group of film lovers, not for broad masses. And I do not belong to this group. Not recommended and "Tale of Tales" is also a pretty pretentious title that sounds full of itself.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie exists pretty much in its own world. It's not enough to say that this is an animated movie and so exists in a fantasy world. Many animated movies exist in quite realistic worlds, with just a few exaggerations. No, this movie is to the worlds of animation what the worlds of animation are to our world. It's a dream world, purely abstract, about feelings and nostalgia and sadness and confusion and even humor.

    It's also a movie about the least frightening wolf in the history of fairy-tales, and the art of imagination and the world of fairy-tales.

    And it's animated in a warm style that brings back childhood memories of the plush dolls that gave us a sense of security. Yuriy Norshteyn created one of the finest animated movies with Tale of Tales.