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Once Upon a Time

Entry updated 12 October 2021. Tagged: Film.

Russian animated film (1990; original title Kogda-to davno ...; vt A Long Time Ago). Soyuzmultfilm. Directed by Galina Barinova. Written by Ante Zaninovic. Narration by Alina Pokrovskaya. 17 minutes. Colour.

In a time, we are told, so distant that it might be the deep past or Far Future, we see a City. Externally its outlines resemble a many-turreted castle; internally it is futuristic, inspired by M C Escher – the industrial area resembles his Cubic Space Division (1953) – fittingly so, as the only labour we see is part of a Strange Loop (see Douglas Hofstadter). People's home lives are luxurious, served by advanced Technology; in their free time they dress in exotic attire and watch television; but one couple's life is shattered when the wife, Kora, is taken and tied to a rock outside the city.

An immense Robot wyvern now appears: after casually destroying one of the city's towers, it swallows the woman and departs, the inhabitants watching on television. The husband, Zor, donning a convenient suit of armour (its accessories make it a type of Powered Armour), follows the wyvern and, after a long journey, reaches its lair and clambers inside the creature. Moving through its internal workings he enters an artificial grotto – the creature's womb; here he is attacked by a stranger, and a light-sabre fight ensues. Kora now appears, which distracts the other man, who is killed. She runs to the corpse and, distraught, stabs herself. A door opens in the scenery, showing the way to the control centre: Zor doffs his armour and enters, to take the robot back to the city, where (now a year later) another maiden is tied up outside. A cycle is perpetuated: another Strange Loop.

The Fantasy of a dragon, a knight and a maiden, the latter sacrificed by a community in return for peace and stability, is a familiar story; but here told with sf trappings, its influences including Star Wars and Moebius (see Jean Giraud). However, the metaphor of the dragon slayer becoming the dragon has been added. Presumably there is allegorical intent here, but it is not spelt out. An intriguing if puzzling film; the animation, though clearly not made with a large budget, is evocative. [SP]


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