4 March 2008 | ShortoftheWeek
Hard to Follow But Darn Pretty
The narrative in Mermaid is somewhat muddled. The old monk has what must be considered a flashback 1/4 of the way through the film and then a dream 3/4 through, and frankly I'm a bit at a loss to try to explain either. Generally Petrov's storytelling is considered somewhat pedantic, despite or perhaps because he works entirely with literary adaptations, necessitating sometimes difficult omissions. Yet it's his art that he is famous for, and that is firmly on display in Mermaid. He is the most accomplished practitioner of a unique medium he animates using oil paint on glass, using 2-to 3 layers to add depth to the images, animating new plates as the finished ones dry. It is a meticulous, yet beautiful technique that has won him much acclaim3 previous Oscar nominations, including the win in 1999 for his adaptation of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. That film was a huge technical step forward as he adapted his style to the unforgiving IMAX format with the help of the Canadian production house Pascal Blais.
While Mermaid did not win, it likewise was nominated for the Oscar in 1996. Mermaid is in some ways the perfection of Petrov's original technique before money, improved technology, and production teams lead to Old Man and the Sea and My Love. Indeed it was the success of Mermaid that enabled Petrov to receive the kind of corporate patronage that allowed those films to happen.