Animated Short of the Week – Mermaid
Dir. Alexander Petrov
I know, I know… Another Russian… What can I say, I have a type… Their plaintive and painterly views of nature and humanity living in accordance with it, not in opposition to it just melts my heart. This particular filmmaker, Alexander Petrov, may be recognizable to some of you, primarily for his Oscar winning short The Old Man and the Sea from 1999. That and an incomprehensibly beautiful ad campaign for United Airlines that made the rounds a few years back.
Petrov’s signature technique is that of pastel oil-on-glass animation, a pain-staking process that essentially has him making individual paintings one-by-one on glass, and carefully photographing them using special motion-control camera rigs. It’s a daunting technique, one that few have mastered in the world, but it’s no mere ploy. His images feel like a Renoir coming to life in a dream, seeming just hazy enough to leave an indelible image, but not enough to define. You will notice a great similarity to another animator covered in these very pages, Yuri Norstein, and you would not be mistaken. Petrov studied under Norstein for a time, and his stamp can certainly be seen over Petrov’s work. But make no mistake; Petrov has a refined style all his own, one that is distinctly Russian, but speaks to a larger community that admittedly, much of Russian cinema cannot.
Mermaid was the first of Petrov’s films I’d seen, and I still believe it to be a superior introduction to his work as a whole. It contains a tight, familiar narrative, one that eases by in terms of length, but despite its diminutive stature, Petrov lets the shots really breathe in detail most commonly allowed for in feature films. Essentially, everything a short film should do; provide enough of a narrative to draw an audience in, but focus more on the moment-in-time details. And of course, give them some beautiful images to make a subtle but lasting impression. Enjoy.