August 21, 2019

‘Rezo’ Review: The Life of an Artist, From His Own Hand

‘Rezo’ Review: The Life of an Artist, From His Own Hand


The illustrated memoir “Rezo,” directed by Leo Gabriadze, combines documentary and animation to tell the story of Gabriadze’s father, Rezo, a polymathic artist whose career has included work as screenwriter and as the founder of a marionette theater in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The imagery, drawn by Rezo himself and animated by Sveta Matrosova and Elizaveta Astretsova, has a charmingly personal quality. Although this Russian-language feature covers a tumultuous period in history, primarily from World War II until Rezo’s unexpected, career-starting introduction to the power of art, it never once resembles a checklist of sweeping events.

The narrative teems with eccentric details. We learn how Rezo, as a boy, read books in a kerosene-heated library with a rat to keep him company. Lenin and Stalin emerge from portraits at his school to discuss whether his tardiness should get him expelled. Filmed in sepia-toned interviews, the now 82-year-old Rezo remembers living with his grandparents in Georgia, where the back of an outhouse had a spectacular view and a “pit full of plankton” became a treasured swimming hole.

His images, brought to life with a jerky motion suggestive of marionettes, have an almost childlike sense of geometry (the grandfather’s abundant beard often points horizontally or vertically). Prisoners of war are rendered in shades of gray; a mourning scene makes striking use of blank space.

In its judicious use of color, the hourlong “Rezo” shares something with the haunting “Tale of Tales,” the 30-minute film that precedes it. Considered by many to be one of the greatest of all animated movies, Yuri Norstein’s featurette, first shown in 1979, likewise traffics in an individualized mythology, replete with a rope-skipping Minotaur, a baby-snatching wolf and tango partners who vanish into thin air. An ostensible allegory — notices from the state appear onscreen, train cars speed ominously into the night — it is known for resisting comprehensive interpretation.



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