Some delights, but Tournee 22 often falls flat

September 20, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

It is unfortunate that "The XXII International Tournee of Animation" arrives tonight for its Baltimore weekend seven days after the stunning "Akira" played at the Baltimore Museum of Art and 14 days before Disney's extraordinary "Fantasia" is re-released.

Those two epics represent the two directions animation can take -- the classical, painterly Disney school and the stunning, violent, shocking modern school. If they are the "War and Peace" and "Brothers Karamazov" of the animation field, then the poor "Tournee" feels like a collection of short stories -- unfortunately, none by Chekov.

There is a Platonov. Who is he? He is an obscure Russian novelist and thought criminal, Andrei Platonov (1889-1951). How do I know? It's right between Plautus, Titus Maccius and Plato in "The Reader's Encyclopedia." At any rate, a story he once did about -- yes! -- a boy and his cow, has been seized upon by some Russian animators, presumably as part of an epic Glastnost-inspired Platonov Rehabilitation Project, and turned into an extraordinary piece that is the center of the collection.

At 10 minutes, "The Cow" is like an animated Rembrandt; the images are extremely dark and painterly, as they evoke the tender relationship between a boy of the Steppes and the family bovine. It's exquisite, old-style, cel animation.

Another delight is "Gisele Kerozene," a madcap pixilation extravaganza, in which two punk witches on jet broomsticks chase each other around a modern skyscraper complex about 3 feet off the ground. I'm not sure how this is done: though the timing is super-attenuated, all the figures and the setting are demonstrably "real." It looks as though director Jan Kounen actually photographed witches chasing each other around a skyscraper complex!

But, those delights aside, it must be said that of the recent animation tournees, this one is the spottiest. The best collections encompass a large range of tastes and techniques. Far too much of the material in No. 22 is experimental or abstract in nature; there's a dearth of story, a lackof wit, a scarcity of charm. There's also far too many pieces that are mere celebrations of their own process.

A German entry, "The Balance," is an example. It's technically superb, as it watches five men isolated on a platform floating in the ether, trying to keep the platform in trim. But the piece clearly has "symbolic" aspirations, and it ultimately founders on its own pretensions.

"Shadrach" is really an animated "Beastie Boys" video, and not a very interesting one. Many of the others are impressionistic items from Eastern Europe.

Certainly the strangest is another Soviet import, "The Coiling Prankster." In this oddity, the world is made of wire. Entirely. Director Garri Bardin animates wire forms as they come off a spool and jump into life. It must have taken him hundreds of years!

"The XXII International Tournee of Animation" will show at Shriver Hall on the Hopkins campus tonight at 7 and 9:30; at 8 p.m., 10:15 p.m. and midnight Friday and Saturday; and at 8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. Sunday.

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