Like a visual representation of literary nonsense, or Alice in Wonderland tripping on psychedelic mushrooms, Norshteyn’s film appears as purely aesthetic display of randomness. As the reels roll, viewers fall into the transit of a lullaby through time and LP vinyl of a memory skipping through sequences. These 29 minutes are often acclaimed as the ‘greatest animated film of all time,’ despite the numerous modern masterworks created by Pixar and other animators across the globe. This film originates from the Soviet Union and is technically written in Russian, yet, as it bears no visible plot and is stripped of any real dialogue, the potential language barrier is debunked, as it can still be viewed and appreciated by a speaker of any language. Norshteyn’s Tale of Tales offers an insightful glance into the true nature of memory. It is stubbed and fragmented, with splits in logic and sensible thought. It is a series of vignettes, a handful of sounds and images pieced in ways often unknown to us. In this sense, the narration of the story cannot be told chronologically. The events that occur are linked through a shared idea or feeling. Like the little grey wolf bent over a small fire, the film is the painting of patience, waiting out the winter of history.
It can be seen as a visualization of emotions on high during the World War II era on the Eastern Front. Pleasure can be discovered and embraced in mundane tasks of living, as a way of coping with the sadness and overarching gloom of reality that hovered over one’s life during the time of war. Powerful images, such as the male dancers individually evaporating from their women to convey the loss of companionship via war, reach their way into this short animation, taking on the nature of sheer minimalism. The film itself adheres to this simplicity, drawing its strength from the lack of density and higher order. The animations appear to be sketched fluidly and easily, free from a domineering refiner. This stark frugalness gives the film strength, which embodies the essence of the content—drawing strength from the act of living to keep on living. This basic sense capitulates a paramount position in the human condition. It captures a realness that many animations gloss over. It abandons the flashing lights and popping colors of cinema, as they paint over the rough surface of the content, hiding the very flaws and nature of what we are. Modern pictures revolve significantly more around production, which steals attention from the wholesome nature of what truly makes a work—the story. In lieu of a good tale, artfully crafted animation must also follow, as a proper container is necessary to enclose proper insides, but should not enable the container to overpower the content.
Akin to the holiday season, in celebrating Christmas, one may exchange gifts. Beautiful wrappings may surround the gift, but when those are torn off, they are forgotten. The thing that is kept and remembered is the contents of those wrappings. The true beauty of a tale lies in the tale itself. That is the tale of tales, and Norshteyn could not have captured it more beautifully.